7 Self-Care Tips for Living With Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy | MyHeartDiseaseTeam

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7 Self-Care Tips for Living With Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Updated on April 5, 2024

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a genetic heart disease that affects 1 in 500 Americans. HCM causes the walls of the heart’s left ventricle to grow thicker and become stiff. This condition makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood.

Symptoms of HCM can include chest pain and shortness of breath. Atrial fibrillation, when the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly, and arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm, are also common. Other symptoms may include dizziness and fainting. Without proper care, there’s an increased risk of heart failure, cardiac arrest, heart attack, and stroke.

If you’re living with HCM, lifestyle changes can help support your health. Here are seven tips to take the best care of yourself.

1. Exercise Carefully

People living with HCM may worry that exercise isn’t safe and avoid being active. However, a lack of exercise can put you at an even higher risk of a cardiac problem. A mild to moderate activity level is crucial for staying fit.

Walking or biking in moderation are good options to slowly improve your endurance over time. However, you should avoid weightlifting, strenuous exercise, and competitive sports.

Speak with your doctor about what exercises you should participate in. If you feel worsening HCM symptoms during physical activity, stop immediately and seek medical attention.

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Speak with your doctor about what exercises you should participate in. If you feel worsening HCM symptoms — such as palpitations, heart rhythm changes, extremely elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness — during physical activity, stop immediately and seek medical attention. Make sure to talk to your doctor about whether any parts of your job could cause issues for you.

2. Modify Your Diet

Generally, people living with HCM are advised to eat a heart-healthy diet filled with whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Your food choices should also aim to lower your risks of hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, and diabetes, so make sure to limit your intake of sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. Overall, try to eat small portions filled with natural, unprocessed ingredients. Talk with your doctor to find out what diet is best for you.

If you’re living with HCM, you may need to limit alcohol use. In some people with heart conditions, drinking alcohol can make heart rhythm abnormalities worse and further reduce blood flow. Ask your medical provider if it’s safe for you to drink alcohol in moderation. Because of the potential for stress on the heart, you may need to avoid too much fluid intake of any kind.

3. Quit Smoking and Recreational Drug Use

Tobacco, as well as cocaine and other recreational drugs, are known for narrowing the arteries that feed blood to the heart (stenosis). Arterial stenosis and HCM can be a fatal combination.

If you smoke, ask your doctor about ways to quit. Your local hospital may offer programs, and your doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help you stop smoking.

4. Maintain Dental Hygiene

Although brushing your teeth properly might not be the first heart health tip that comes to mind, there are strong connections between oral and cardiac health. One concern for those living with heart disease is the risk of endocarditis — an infection anywhere in the body, including the teeth and gums, that travels to the heart. Once it reaches the heart, it causes dangerous inflammation that could be fatal for those already living with enlarged heart muscles caused by HCM.

Although brushing your teeth properly might not be the first heart health tip that comes to mind, there are strong connections between oral and cardiac health.

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To lower your risk of gum and tooth infection, brush and floss your teeth regularly, rinse with antiseptic mouthwash, and see your dentist twice a year to identify cavities early. Talk with your cardiologist and dentist about additional precautions you should take.

5. Manage Stress and Treat Mental Health Concerns

Your physical health is tied to your mental health, especially if you’re living with HCM. Reducing ongoing stress is important for improving your cardiac and overall health. This step may look like taking medication, spending more time in nature, journaling, spending time with friends, or going to therapy.

Anxiety and depression have been shown to worsen HCM and other forms of heart disease, so don’t be afraid to seek out mental health treatment options if necessary. Not only can treatment for depression or anxiety reduce your cardiac risk, but they also can improve your quality of life.

Anxiety and depression have been shown to worsen HCM and other forms of heart disease, so don’t be afraid to seek out mental health treatment if necessary.

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6. Monitor Blood Pressure

High blood pressure causes strain on the heart and circulatory system, which is especially dangerous for people with HCM. Although your blood pressure will be monitored every time you go to your doctor’s office, you can ask about using an at-home blood pressure monitor to take readings between appointments, especially if you have a personal or family history of hypertension.

It’s also important to note that, rarely, some blood pressure medications may worsen symptoms in certain people living with HCM. Make sure to take medications exactly as recommended and see your doctor if your HCM symptoms get worse.

7. Prioritize Regular Care

HCM is an ongoing condition that you will have to manage for the rest of your life. That’s why it is important to develop a strong relationship with your medical team by attending regular follow-up appointments — not just calling your doctor up when a problem arises.

Your cardiologist will run tests, such as cardiac stress tests, echocardiograms, and electrocardiograms, to understand how your condition changes as time goes on. At these visits, you can discuss lifestyle changes as well as continuing or starting new treatment. You should also see your primary care provider regularly to check on other health conditions that may worsen your condition.

Although it’s scary to be diagnosed with HCM, it is a treatable condition. By reducing risk factors and living a healthy lifestyle focused on mental and physical wellness, you can keep your HCM in check.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, more than 60,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with different kinds of heart disease.

Are you living with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy? How do you manage your health with lifestyle changes? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on your Activities page.

Updated on April 5, 2024
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Larry A. Weinrauch, MD, FACC, FACP, FAHA is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School with a focus on cardiovascular disease and clinical outcomes research. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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