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Fight Back Against Inherited Sudden-Death Heart Condition

a constant feeling like someone was choking her. But, she continues, “After the procedure, it was like someone released me. The pressure was gone. Whatever had me around the throat was gone. I have a new lease on life.”

Catherine’s story is proof that proper care can give HCM patients a chance at better quality of life and peace of mind, says Sharlene Day, M.D., who directs the U-M’s HCM Clinic, one of only seven specialized programs for HCM patients in the nation. It brings together heart and genetic specialists who treat both adults and children.

But getting diagnosed is still a challenge, says Day, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at the U-M Medical School.

“Because so many people with HCM may not know they have it because they don’t experience symptoms, it can often be difficult to make the diagnosis,” she explains. “Many individuals don’t experience symptoms early on, but may develop them later in life.”

Some people with HCM find out they have it by chance, when they’re having other tests done, she says. Others might seek their doctor’s advice about heart-related symptoms they’ve been feeling — such as a “jumpy” heart rhythm, chest pain or shortness of breath — and find out through tests that they have HCM. And still others only find out when they tell their doctors that several people in their family have experienced sudden heart-related deaths, or have been diagnosed with HCM.

“There is a certain population of people who should definitely go to their doctor to be screened for HCM,” says Day. “These people include anyone who has a family history of sudden cardiac death, especially among relatives under age 55, or anyone with a family history of HCM. In addition, any individual who experiences breathlessness when they exercise, chest pain or heart palpitations, or has lost consciousness without an obvious explanation, should go in to see their doctor.” This holds true for children and
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