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What Is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a genetic condition that causes your heart muscle to thicken. If the heart muscle becomes too thick, it can block or reduce blood flow out of your heart. Without treatment, it can lead to serious complications, including sudden cardiac death.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center in the Puget Sound: Why choose us?

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is the only comprehensive HCM Center in Washington state. Highlights of our care include: 

  • Team of experts: Our HCM specialists review your case before creating your customized care plan. You have a team of cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, interventional cardiologists, anesthesiologists, radiologists, pharmacists, nurses and social workers by your side at every step. Meet our team

  • HCM surgery expertise: Septal myectomy is a specialized HCM surgery that requires a high level of experience and skill. Our team is among the top 2% of centers in the nation in terms of septal myectomy volume and experience. Research shows that surgeons who have more experience provide better outcomes for patients.

  • Minimally invasive options: Alcohol septal ablation is a minimally invasive procedure to treat HCM. Our interventional cardiologists have performed a high volume of these procedures, leading to excellent results and faster recovery.

  • Award-winning care: US News & World Report ranked our cardiology, heart and vascular surgery program No. 1 in Washington, Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. We also earned a Cardiac Care Outcomes Assessment Program Performance Recognition Award from the Foundation for Health Care Quality. These accolades reflect our commitment to exceptional care and positive outcomes.

  • Genetic testing and counseling: Our team evaluates patients and families for genetic cardiovascular conditions. We offer at-home genetic testing options, so patients receive prompt diagnosis and treatment. After you receive test results, our genetic counselors provide compassionate guidance on family planning and treatment decisions. When needed, we also refer patients to cardiologists who specialize in maternal-fetal medicine, pediatrics and women’s health and pregnancy-related heart disease.

  • Research focus: We are a strong research-based institution, partnering with the world-leading Benaroya Research Institute. As our patient, you may have access to groundbreaking new therapies through our national and international clinical trials. 

We make it easier to access HCM care near your home, school or work. Our specialists are available at multiple locations across the Puget Sound and through telehealth (online) appointments.

What does hypertrophic cardiomyopathy feel like?

HCM doesn’t always cause symptoms, but people with the condition may experience:

  • Palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
  • Chest pain, especially during exercise
  • Dizziness 
  • Fainting or lightheadedness 
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath during exercise
  • Swelling in your abdomen, ankles, feet or legs

What causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?

HCM is caused by abnormal genes that thicken your heart muscle. It typically affects the wall (septum) between the lower heart chambers (ventricles). You can develop HCM if you inherit one of the HCM genes. 

In most cases, you have a 50% chance of inheriting the gene if one parent carries it. If one of your relatives has HCM, ask your provider about HCM screening and the role of genetic testing.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy diagnosis

Diagnosing HCM requires an evaluation of your symptoms and family history combined with advanced cardiac imaging tests. HCM specialists at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health provide the necessary tests and interpret your results. 

Typically, we diagnose HCM using noninvasive tests like cardiac MRI, echocardiogram and electrocardiogram (EKG). We also provide genetic testing for you or your family members when needed. Learn more about our diagnosis and testing for HCM and other heart conditions.

Treatments for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Our dedicated program provides the most effective HCM treatments available. Your treatment may include:

  • People with mild HCM may benefit from medications that relieve symptoms like shortness of breath and swelling. Our providers work with you to find a medication that fits your needs and lifestyle.

    Our center was among the first in the Pacific Northwest to offer mavacamten (Camzyos®). Mavacamten is the only FDA-approved medication that targets the thickened heart muscle and relieves HCM symptoms. As our patient, you also have access to ongoing clinical trials where we explore the newest therapies.

  • Our comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program includes an expert team and services that aren’t widely available in other programs. In addition to exercise, we offer cooking classes and nutrition guidance. We also provide intensive cardiac rehabilitation (ICR) for patients with more complex heart health needs. Learn more about cardiac rehabilitation.

  • If HCM causes an arrhythmia, a device may restore a normal heart rhythm or prevent a life-threatening complication from HCM. Devices include:

    • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): This device can prevent sudden cardiac death in people at risk of dangerous ventricular arrhythmias. We provide the latest ICD procedures, including minimally invasive subcutaneous ICDs. This method avoids open heart surgery and is beneficial for younger patients who may need an ICD for many years. 
    • Pacemaker: A pacemaker can benefit people with HCM who have bradycardia (slow heart rate). We provide advanced pacemaker options, including leadless pacemakers that don’t require chest incisions.

    Our electrophysiologists and interventional cardiologists work together to provide the latest devices to treat HCM. Learn more about pacemakers and implantable devices.

  • Alcohol septal ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that helps thin your ventricular septum (area that is typically too thick in people with HCM). During this procedure, our specialists insert a thin tube (catheter) into one of your veins and guide it to your heart. Then, we inject a small amount of pure ethanol (alcohol) through the catheter into your ventricular septum, which destroys some of the extra cells.

    Our interventional cardiologists have years of experience with this procedure. Alcohol septal ablation may benefit you if medications aren’t enough to relieve symptoms, but you are not a candidate for surgery.

  • At Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, our heart surgeons are leaders in septal myectomy, an open-heart procedure to treat HCM. During this surgery, our experts remove part of the thickened septum that interferes with blood flow. We perform more surgeries than most other centers, and our patients have consistently positive outcomes. 

    HCM can also cause your mitral valve to elongate (stretch out). The elongated valve may interfere with blood flow and cause regurgitation (backward blood flow). If your mitral valve needs repair, our surgeons will correct it during your septal myectomy. Because we perform a high volume of HCM surgeries, you can be confident your heart is in the best possible hands. Learn more about cardiac surgery.

  • Most patients with HCM do not require advanced heart failure therapies. For those who do, we have a team of experts specializing in advanced heart failure care, as well as transplant cardiologists. Our team provides the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and seamless referrals for those who need a heart transplant. Learn more about our heart failure program.

Contact us

Learn more about HCM diagnosis and treatment in the Puget Sound area.