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What is Ischemic Cardiomyopathy?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2016
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Ischemic cardiomyopathy is a serious medical condition characterized by the heart's inability to function properly. Also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), ischemic cardiomyopathy is commonly associated with compromised arterial function or coronary artery disease. Since ischemic cardiomyopathy is considered to be a chronic condition, treatment is often centered on symptom management and generally involves the administration of several medications to improve circulation and heart function, and lower blood pressure.

In most cases, ischemic cardiomyopathy occurs in the wake of disease or damage that has adversely affected the heart muscle. Inflammation, congenital defects, and arrhythmias are often known to contribute to the development of ischemic cardiomyopathy. Congestive heart failure may also occur in the presence of impaired valve function, residual damage from a heart attack, or high blood pressure. Certain behavioral and lifestyle factors may also increase one’s chances for developing ischemic cardiomyopathy, including excessive alcohol consumption, recreational drug use, and poor diet.

Once the organ is weakened, it may be difficult for the heart to recover and keep up with the demands placed on it by the body's various systems. The heart may begin to deteriorate, lose its flexibility and fail to pump sufficiently or correctly. If blood fails to circulate properly through the heart, it will begin to accumulate or back up in areas surrounding the damaged heart muscle. Blood that accumulates in the vessels, arteries, and organs surrounding the heart can contribute to impaired organ function and circulation.

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Congestive heart failure is generally diagnosed following a battery of diagnostic tests. Blood tests are usually administered to assess one’s thyroid and kidney function and to determine the presence of any markers indicative of infection or decreased heart function. Tests administered to evaluate the electrical conductivity, rhythm, and pumping capability of the heart muscle may include an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, and stress test. Imaging tests may also be used to evaluate blood circulation through the muscle and the physical presentation of the heart.

Symptoms of ischemic cardiomyopathy may vary depending on the severity of damage the heart has sustained, meaning whether it is acute or chronic. Individuals with a chronic presentation of the disease may experience shortness of breath, pronounced fatigue, and decreased stamina for physical activity that worsen over time. Acute forms of CHF can include severe angina, pronounced fluid retention, and palpitations. If left untreated, CHF can compromise organ function, leading to widespread organ failure and increasing one’s risk for blood clots and stroke.

Whether the onset of symptoms is acute or gradual, ischemic cardiomyopathy is a chronic condition that necessitates long-term treatment. A variety of medications are generally used to stabilize and manage the various contributory factors. Frequently, diuretics, beta blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are prescribed to alleviate fluid retention, reduce stress placed on the heart, and lower blood pressure. In cases with severe arterial blockage, surgery may be necessary to restore proper blood flow to the heart muscle. Implantable defibrillators and heart pumps may also be needed to aid with restoring proper heart rhythm or as an alternative to heart transplantation.

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