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May 06, 2013

Patients with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Place Unnecessary Restrictions on Exercise

Curbing activity may do more harm than good for patients with HCM.

Staying active is one of the best ways to promote better health, but just how much exercise we need is often relative. Some individuals with heart conditions are advised by doctors to avoid activities that are too strenuous, while others are limited in their ability to stay active due to their condition. Patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), or thickening of the heart muscle, are no exception and should work with their doctors on an activity plan. However, a recent study shows that patients with HCM may curb their physical activity too much, which could do more harm than good.

This study was led by researchers from the University of Michigan School of Medicine, utilizing surveys to better understand the quality of life, exercise and dietary habits of patients with HCM. With more than 3,600 survey respondents, researchers noticed some glaring differences in health and lifestyle choices of “healthy” individuals vs. those patients with HCM. On one hand, patients with HCM used alcohol less and had lower rates of smoking compared to patients without the condition. Patients with HCM also had some healthier eating habits, like avoiding fast food restaurants and frozen pizzas. However, researchers noticed glaring differences in physical activity between these two groups of individuals. Patients with HCM were much less likely to have a job requiring moderate- and vigorous-intensity work, like brisk walking or carrying heavy boxes. Even though patients with HCM were more likely to participate in some type of exercise compared to those without the condition, HCM patients spent much less time participating in these activities compared to healthy individuals. Subjects with HCM were also more likely to have a higher body mass index and reported poorer emotional well-being compared to others.

It’s true that patients with HCM are encouraged to perform low- to moderate-intensity exercise to reduce risk of complications, but this study suggests that they may actually be too cautious when it comes to physical activity. HCM is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in athletes, which is why doctors advise HCM patients against vigorous forms of exercise. But that doesn’t mean that they need to cut back on physical activity altogether. In fact, the likelihood of HCM patients facing serious health consequences from not exercising enough is much greater than if they were to do too much. So for patients with HCM, it’s important that they work with their doctor to create a personalized activity plan and seek guidance in how to live an active, more healthy lifestyle.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) happens when the heart muscle grows too thick, so the heart gets bigger and its chambers get smaller. HCM is the most common genetic heart disease, yet many people have no symptoms and live a normal life with few problems.
  • What are the symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?
  • Although hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common genetic heart disease, most people with HCM don’t experience symptoms. For those that do, the most common symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain and fainting—especially during exercise. Symptoms may also include dizziness, fatigue and heart palpitations.

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