Cardiac muscle is another name for the heart muscle, or for heart tissue. Cardiac muscle disease is the name given to any type of condition that interferes with the successful operation of the heart due to the inability of the heart muscle to function properly. This type of disease is also referred to as cardiomyopathy, and is one of the least common types of heart disease. It can be caused by many different illnesses and conditions, and commonly affects younger patients as well as those who are older.
Sometimes the cause of cardiac muscle disease is unknown, which is frequently the case for patients afflicted with dilated congestive cardiomyopathy. In this condition the muscles of the heart stretch out of shape, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood effectively. Treatment is typically directed at the symptoms since there is no obvious cause, and patients are usually given a combination of drugs including those intended increase the strength of each heartbeat, diuretics to remove excess fluid from the body, and steroids to aid in controlling inflammation in the heart. Patients with this condition may become candidates for a heart transplant.
Inflammation of the heart muscle is a type of cardiac muscle disease that can result in cardiomyopathy, but often does not. A virus such as those responsible for polio or rubella often triggers myocarditis, or inflammation. Heart damage results from the body mistakenly attacking the heart muscle as it tries to fight off the virus. Certain bacterial diseases such as diphtheria and typhoid fever can cause this condition as well, as can some parasitic infestations.
Other causes of cardiac muscle disease can include inherited defects and congenital problems, and cardiomyopathy is frequently seen with health problems such as muscular dystrophy. It may also have a genetic component because cardiac muscle disease appears to run in families, but no responsible gene has yet been identified. Some doctors feel that it may be the family’s lifestyle rather than genetics that make members predisposed to the problem.
Pregnant women sometimes develop peripartum cardiomyopathy, which occurs for reasons that aren’t clear either shortly before or soon after the baby is born. Alcoholics who frequently drink large quantities of alcohol often develop cardiac muscle disease, and it may kill them before it is diagnosed. People who experience prolonged starvation or malnutrition are likely to develop cardiomyopathy, and once the heart muscle is damaged it cannot usually be restored, though drugs may help the heart to beat more effectively.