Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic heart disease that affects 1 in 500 Americans. HCM causes dangerous ventricular heart muscle enlargement (hypertrophy) that prevents the heart from pumping blood efficiently. This chronic condition is associated with symptoms such as chest pain, atrial fibrillation, shortness of breath, arrhythmia, dizziness, and fainting. Without proper treatment and care, you may face increased risk of heart failure, cardiac arrest, heart attack, and stroke. In addition to medications and surgical procedures, lifestyle modifications can have beneficial effects for those living with HCM.
People living with HCM may worry that exercise isn’t safe and therefore live a sedentary lifestyle. However, poor fitness can put you at an even higher risk of a cardiac event, so mild to moderate exercise is crucial for staying fit.
Columbia University doctors recommend walking or biking in moderation to slowly improve your endurance and cardiac efficiency over time. However, it is recommended that you avoid weightlifting, strenuous exercise, and competitive sports because of the risks associated with their strain on the heart. Many people living with HCM follow active lifestyles filled with physical activity like hiking and jogging that they have carefully introduced into their lives with close monitoring by their medical teams.
Speak with your doctor about what exercises you should participate in. If you feel worsening of HCM symptoms — such as palpitations, heart rhythm changes, extremely elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness — during activity, stop immediately and seek medical attention. Also discuss with your doctor any elements of your occupation that may represent a problem.
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 specific diet is best for you.
If you are living with HCM, it may be essential to limit alcohol use. In some people with heart conditions, drinking alcohol can worsen heart rhythm abnormalities and further reduce blood flow. Ask your medical provider if it is 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.
Tobacco, as well as cocaine and other recreational drugs, are known for progressively narrowing the arteries that feed blood to the heart (stenosis). Arterial stenosis, on top of the heart’s reduced capacity to pump blood in HCM, can be a fatal combination.
Ask your doctor about smoking cessation resources. Your local hospital may offer programs, and your doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help you stop smoking.
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 due to HCM.
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 any additional precautions you should take.
Your physical health is tied to your mental health, especially if you are living with HCM. Primarily, it is important to reduce chronic stress in your life to improve your cardiac and overall health. This 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 if necessary. Not only can these modifications reduce your cardiac risk, but they also can improve your quality of life as a person living with a stressful chronic condition.
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 enter a doctor’s office, you can ask your doctor 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 is also important to note that, rarely, some blood pressure medications (such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers) 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.
HCM is a chronic condition that you will have to manage for the rest of your life. That is 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 physiological tests, such as cardiac stress tests, echocardiograms, and electrocardiograms, to assess the progression of your condition over time. 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 comorbidities and risk factors, such as obesity and diabetes, that may worsen your condition.
Although it is scary to receive a diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, HCM 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.
MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, 49,000 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 modifications? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on MyHeartDiseaseTeam.