Cardiology is the treatment and care of your heart and blood vessels (the cardiovascular system). Cardiologists are doctors who specialise in diagnosing and treating conditions of the heart.
How do neuromuscular conditions affect the heart?
Some neuromuscular conditions can affect the heart, causing:
- Weakness of the heart muscle, also called cardiomyopathy. Your heart may become less able to pump blood throughout your body and can lead to heart failure.
- Problems with the electrical system that makes your heartbeat and controls its rate and rhythm. You may develop an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), where your heart beats too fast, too slowly, too early or irregularly.
Not all people with neuromuscular conditions will have heart complications. Being aware of the increased risk and pro-actively screening for and early treatment of heart problems is an important part of managing your condition.
Heart complications can develop at any time, from childhood through to adulthood. Sometimes there are no noticeable symptoms or you might experience:
- shortness of breath
- tiredness and lack of energy to do your normal activities.
Heart complications can occur without symptoms so all people with a neuromuscular condition should:
- be referred to a cardiologist by their doctor when first diagnosed
- have yearly heart checks to monitor your heart health. These checks may be more frequent (eg. every six months) depending on your condition, age and heart health.
If you notice any new symptoms listed above, contact your cardiologist or other specialist doctors for further assessment.
At your first appointment with a cardiologist, you will usually have some tests to determine your ‘baseline’ heart health. Your cardiologist will then refer back to these tests at future appointments to see if your heart health is stable or if anything has changed. Heart tests can include:
- ECG (electrocardiogram) – measures and records your heart’s electrical activity. During an ECG, electrodes (sticky dots) that can detect the electrical activity of your heart are placed on your arms, legs and chest. to your chest and sometimes your limbs. The electrodes are attached to leads and connected to a machine, which takes the reading. You are usually asked to lie still for a few minutes while the ECG is recorded.
- Echocardiogram (echo) – uses sound waves from an ultrasound machine to produce images of your heart. It allows your doctor to see your heart beating and pumping blood.
- Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – is a type of scan that produces very detailed pictures of the heart.
- A portable ECG is known as a ‘Holter monitor’ - a small wearable device that keeps track of your heart rhythm (how your heart pumps) and pulse (the rate that your heart beats) over a 24-hour period, while you go about your normal activities.
Your cardiologist may recommend starting medications for the heart before you have any noticeable symptoms to try to prevent heart problems occurring. The main types of heart medications include:
- ACE-Inhibitors and Angiotensin receptor blockers. This group of medications widen the blood vessels, making it easier for the heart to pump blood around the body.
- Beta-blockers help the heart to relax, so it beats more slowly and efficiently.
- Diuretics help the body remove excess water to reduce the pressure on the heart.
- Blood thinners to prevent blood clots.
Where to find more information
- Save Our Sons has information about cardiac care for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
- The American Heart Association have published a very detailed article Management of Cardiac Involvement Associated With Neuromuscular Diseases: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association providing recommendations for cardiac care and treatment for neuromuscular conditions.