- Reviewed by Christopher P. Cannon, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing
About one in 500 people has a condition that affects muscle cells in the heart, causing the walls of the heart to thicken and enlarge (see illustration). Called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), it's often caused by genetic mutations and is the most common inherited form of heart disease, although many people have never heard of it. And among those who are familiar with HCM, misconceptions and unwarranted worry about the condition are common.
"Until recently, HCM was feared as the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes," says Dr. Carolyn Ho, medical director of the Cardiovascular Genetics Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. However, newer, more comprehensive research involving the general population, college athletes, and military recruits shows that while HCM remains an important underlying cause of sudden cardiac death in otherwise seemingly healthy individuals, it's not the most common one. The exact reasons for these rare but devastating events often remain a mystery, even after an autopsy.
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About the Author
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter
About the Reviewer
Christopher P. Cannon, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing
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