Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy, an abnormality or weakening of the heart muscle often associated with inadequate heart pumping or other problems, is a serious cardiac condition. If left untreated, it can lead to a variety of life-threatening conditions including:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart valve problems
  • Blood clots
  • Heart failure
  • Failure to thrive
  • Poor growth and weight gain
  • Death from heart failure progression
  • Sudden death

The Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy Program at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Heart Institute provides advanced diagnosis and management of all aspects of cardiomyopathy and heart failure in infants, children and adolescents. Our nationally recognized experts in pediatric cardiology work closely to develop an individualized plan of care for each patient, including the child's specific needs for rehabilitation and therapy.

We diagnose and treat several types of cardiomyopathy including:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy - a condition where the heart muscle becomes weak and the chambers get enlarged. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough blood out to the body. Many different medical problems cause this type of cardiomyopathy. This condition can sometimes run in families.
  • Noncompaction cardiomyopathy - also called embryonal or spongiform cardiomyopathy. This occurs when the heart muscle does not develop (hence embryonal) and has a characteristic spongey appearance on ECHO. It can be associated with many genetic and metabolic syndromes. Clinically, it can present like dilated or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) - a condition where the heart muscle becomes thick. The thickening makes it harder for blood to leave the heart and harder for the heart to fill with blood. This condition is associated with severe arrhythmia and sudden death. This type of cardiomyopathy is usually passed down through families, but can occur spontaneously.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy - occurs when the heart chambers are unable to properly fill with blood because the heart muscle is stiff in children.
  • Ischemic cardiomyopathy - this is caused by narrowing in the arteries that supply the heart with blood. It makes the heart walls thin so they do not pump well. This is most common in adults.
  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy - this occurs during pregnancy or in the first five months afterward. It is sometimes reversible.

There is no cure for cardiomyopathy but it can be treated in many cases. Lifestyle changes, medications and implantable devices can help control arrhythmias, help manage symptoms, prevent sudden death and slow the progression of disease. In severe cases, however, the heart of a child may become progressively weaker, resulting in end-stage heart failure. In such instances, a heart transplant may be necessary.

A Bridge to Transplant

For a child awaiting a heart transplant, a ventricular assist device can provide a veritable lifeline until the time of transplant. Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital is the only medical center in South Florida with approval to use the FDA-approved Berlin Heart, a mechanical pumping device that is a lifesaving option for children who must wait weeks, if not months, for a heart transplant. The revolutionary device is able to sustain a child whose heart may be too weak to work on its own without the need of intubation or extensive sedation.

Treating the Whole Patient

In many cases, we will work with genetics and metabolism specialists to achieve an integrated approach to diagnosis and management. Our focus is on treating the whole patient to ensure optimized growth, development and overall health of the patient. Comprehensive care can include:

  • Nutrition
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Feeding