Harvard Heart Letter

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: Optimism tinged with caution

Most people with this genetic condition develop thickened heart muscle but lead normal lives.

"You have a really big heart" is usually a wonderful compliment — except when it comes from your cardiologist and the term cardiomyopathy crops up in the conversation. An oversized heart usually isn't a good sign.

The heart can enlarge for many reasons. High blood pressure, problems with the valves of the heart, and other "insults" can make the muscular walls of the heart's lower chambers (ventricles) become thicker than they should be. The most common inherited cause is a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — translation: excessive and harmful thickening of heart muscle. Instead of helping the heart pump more powerfully, the extra muscle may interfere with its function.

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