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Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is very common and can affect people of any age. It is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, including young athletes. HCM occurs if heart muscle cells enlarge and cause the walls of the ventricles (usually the left ventricle) to thicken. The ventricle size often remains normal, but the thickening may block blood flow out of the ventricle. If this happens, the condition is called obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Sometimes the septum, the wall that divides the left and right sides of the heart, thickens and bulges into the left ventricle. This can block blood flow out of the left ventricle. Then the ventricle must work hard to pump blood. Symptoms can include chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or fainting. HCM also can affect the heart’s mitral valve, causing blood to leak backward through the valve. Sometimes, the thickened heart muscle doesn’t block blood flow out of the left ventricle. This is referred to as non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The entire ventricle may thicken, or the thickening may happen only at the bottom of the heart. The right ventricle also may be affected. HCM can raise blood pressure in the ventricles and the blood vessels of the lungs. Changes also occur to the cells in the damaged heart muscle, which may disrupt the heart’s electrical signals and lead to arrhythmias. Some people who have HCM have no signs or symptoms, and the disease doesn’t affect their lives. Others have severe symptoms and complications. They may have shortness of breath, serious arrhythmias or an inability to exercise. It is rare, but some people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can have sudden cardiac arrest during very vigorous physical activity. The physical activity can trigger dangerous arrhythmias. Ask your doctor what types and amounts of physical activity are safe for you. Credit: American Heart Association.
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