Written by Dr. Dave Hnida, CBS4 Medical EditorCountry singer Randy Travis is in critical condition in a Texas hospital suffering from a “cardiomyopathy.”

That’s a condition where something, usually a virus, attacks the heart muscle, weakening it and causing it to malfunction.

It’s different from a heart attack, where a blood vessel supplying blood to the muscle gets blocked, causing a section of heart muscle to die.

In a cardiomyopathy, we believe a virus attacks the heart muscle directly (as opposed to, say your throat or respiratory tract.) Basically, think of it as your heart being attacked directly by the flu.

Up to 30 viruses are known to cause cardiomyopathy, and since it is a virus to blame there is little treatment except supportive measures (oxygen, medicines to help the heart beat more strongly, etc). Antibiotics do not help. It’s also not contagious.

The reason a cardiomyopathy is bad news is that when the heart muscle gets a germ in it, it doesn’t pump blood very well, so the usual picture is one of heart failure. The illness also can cause some dangerous and irregular heart rhythms.

Why do people get cardiomyopathy? We generally don’t know. If your immune system is weak, if you abuse alcohol, or take a lot of medications you may be at higher risk.

Yet we also see young, healthy people get this condition. One tidbit — we don’t like people who have a bad cold or virus, as in suffering fever, chills, and aches, to exercise strenuously because we worry the germ could spread to the heart. Take it easy!

As for Travis, there’s not a lot of info being released — simply that he has a cardiomyopathy and his condition is critical — not a good combination of words.

Time will tell.


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