Cardiomyopathy is usually treated with medicines. Some children may need a pacemaker or defibrillator. Some children’s hearts may be so weak that they require a machine (ventricular assist device) to help do the work of the heart. This is called mechanical circulatory support. In rare cases, a heart transplant is needed.
If doctors can find an underlying cause, such as an infection or hormone problem, they will treat this, too. Sometimes no underlying cause can be found.
Cardiomyopathy Treatment Options
To help the heart pump better, doctors use medicines like these:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which reduce the workload on the heart and can slow the progression of the cardiomyopathy.
- Beta-blockers, which have many of the same effects as ACE inhibitors and will also slow the heart rate
- Digoxin, which makes the heart beat slower and with more force
- A diuretic (such as furosemide) can help the kidneys rid the body of extra water. This lowers the amount of fluid in the lungs and other tissues, and may improve heart failure symptoms.
- Anticoagulants, or anti-clotting medicines, can help prevent or dissolve clots that might form in the heart. When the heart is enlarged and weak, blood flow is slower and may lead to clot formation.
- Medicines that correct the heart rate or make an irregular heartbeat normal may be needed to treat arrhythmia.
A pacemaker is a small device that doctors implant in the chest. An electrode attached to the pacemaker is placed in the heart wall, and small electrical impulses travel from a special battery through the wire to the heart, telling the heart when to beat.
A defibrillator is similar to a pacemaker. It continuously monitors the heart for life-threatening rhythm problems. When it detects one, it sends an electrical shock to the heart to bring it back to a normal rhythm.
Ventricular assist device (VAD)
Sometimes, a child’s heart can become so weak that it needs more help than medicines can provide. In these cases, cardiac surgeons can connect the child’s heart to a mechanical pump that does the work of the heart. This kind of pump is called a ventricular assist device (VAD), and can be placed inside or outside the body. VADs can support either the left or right ventricle, or both. A VAD can be used for patients waiting for a heart transplant, or for patients whose heart muscle needs time to rest and recover from an injury or infection.
The heart transplant team at Seattle Children’s performs many transplants each year for children with cardiomyopathy or other heart problems that cannot be controlled using other treatments. Read more about our heart transplant program.
Contact the Heart Center at 206-987-2015 for a cardiac referral, a second opinion or more information.