4 Tips To Relieve Shortness of Breath From Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy | MyHeartDiseaseTeam

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4 Tips To Relieve Shortness of Breath From Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on June 3, 2024

Do you struggle with shortness of breath from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)? HCM causes the heart muscle to thicken and can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. Although many people with HCM don’t have symptoms, some may experience shortness of breath.

When you feel like you can’t breathe, it can be scary. However, there are some ways to manage your shortness of breath that can help you take care of yourself.

What Is Shortness of Breath?

You experience shortness of breath when you feel like you aren’t getting enough air. It may feel as if you are trying to work too hard to breathe for the amount of work that you’re doing or can’t quite catch your breath. Sometimes, it feels like your chest is tight, like you can’t catch your breath no matter what you do, or like there is something heavy sitting on your chest preventing you from breathing.

Why Does Shortness of Breath Occur With Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

Shortness of breath can occur with HCM for a couple of reasons. First, you may not be getting enough air or oxygen. Second, you may not be exhaling enough carbon dioxide. Either of these can happen when there is extra pressure on the left atrium of your heart and your lungs.

Shortness of breath can feel like your chest is tight, like you can’t catch your breath no matter what you do, or like there is something heavy sitting on your chest preventing you from breathing.

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When you experience shortness of breath, you’ll need to take steps to manage it. If it’s a new symptom or it’s getting worse and lasts more than a few minutes, seek help or talk to your cardiologist right away.

Tips for Managing Shortness of Breath From Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

There are a few steps you can take to help manage shortness of breath when it’s associated with HCM.

1. Find an Effective Treatment for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

There are many treatment options for HCM. Ask your doctor how treatment will affect symptoms like shortness of breath.

Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medications, or medical procedures to help treat HCM. You'll also need to follow up with them regularly to keep track of how well your heart is working.

Possible medications include:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Myosin inhibitors
  • Calcium channel blockers

These medications can help relax your heart muscle. They can also help improve blood flow both to and from the heart. If your heart is beating too fast or if its rhythm is off, there are medications to help with those issues, too. Finally, your doctor may also tell you to avoid certain medications, depending on how your heart is working and what symptoms you’re experiencing.

If medications don’t help, there are various procedures you can have that should help your heart work better. Your cardiologist will determine which one is right for you based on several factors. Implantable devices, like pacemakers, are also an option in some situations.

2. Watch Your Diet and Quit Smoking, if You Smoke

Eating well, limiting how much alcohol you drink, and stopping smoking can all help you manage your shortness of breath and improve heart health.

A diet full of fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, and whole grains can help improve your heart’s overall function.

Alcohol can cause heart problems that reduce how much blood can flow to your body. It can also contribute to gaining weight, which can make HCM worse. Drinking too much alcohol, whether occasionally or regularly, can cause irregular heartbeats that are hard to manage, especially if you have HCM.

Smoking can cause another medical condition that makes the arteries around your heart narrow, leading to coronary artery disease. When this condition is combined with HCM, you may experience more symptoms than before.

If you have symptoms of heart failure, you may need to limit your diet even more. Your team of health care professionals may ask you to drink less liquid and limit how much salt you eat.

If you need help figuring out what to eat or quitting either alcohol or smoking, talk to your doctor. They have resources that can help you be successful when it comes to making any of these changes.

3. Exercise Under Medical Supervision

Exercising is helpful for HCM, as long as you do it with the guidance of your cardiology team. This heart condition can cause problems when exercise is strenuous. Your doctor may limit the types of activities you can participate in or ask you to stop participating in certain types of physical competitions. For instance, your doctor may ask you to stay away from lifting heavy weights or any high-intensity activities.


If you’re exercising and experience shortness of breath, you should stop and get in touch with your health care team.

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Your doctor may also give you specific instructions about when to exercise or what to look for when you’re exercising. They may tell you to make sure you’re hydrated before physical activity, to avoid exercise on hot days, or to exercise when your stomach is empty.

If you’re exercising and experience shortness of breath, you should stop and get in touch with your health care team.

4. Track Your Blood Pressure

If you have hypertension (high blood pressure) alongside HCM, it may make your symptoms worse.

Your doctor may recommend tracking your blood pressure at home. They may also prescribe blood pressure medications. If your health care provider puts you on one of these medicines, make sure you take it the way it’s prescribed. Otherwise, the medication may make HCM worse instead of better.

When To Call for Emergency Help

Call for emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack. If your shortness of breath is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, seek medical care right away. The symptoms you should look for include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Chest pain or an unusual chest sensation
  • An unusual sensation in your abdomen, neck, jaw, or shoulders
  • Palpitations (very rapid or very irregular heartbeats)

Get help if you’re coughing up foamy or pink mucus or if your breathing problems become severe. Make sure others also know to call for help if you pass out. It’s always better to call for help in these situations — if it doesn’t end up being an emergency, you can go home.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones, more than 61,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with heart disease.

Are you managing shortness of breath associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on June 3, 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.
    Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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