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What exactly is cardiomyopathy and what does it do to the heart?

Tuesday - 7/9/2013, 5:34pm  ET

WASHINGTON - Country western star Randy Travis underwent surgery Tuesday for a weakened heart muscle.

Cardiomyopathy, as it is technically known, can have many causes. In Travis' case, his doctors believe the damage may have been related to a virus.

Dr. Alan Taylor with the MedStar Heart Institute says there are a lot of viruses that can affect the heart, but most people get them and are never bothered.

In some cases, though, the heart is irritated by the virus or damaged by the inflammation left behind by a viral infection.

A mild case can recover with little outside intervention. But if it is severe and there is heart scarring, then much more extensive treatment is warranted.

Taylor, who is also the head of the cardiology department at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, says one of the biggest areas of advancement in heart medicine in recent years has been in the treatment of patients with weakened hearts.

Not only are there better medications, but there are also new devices that can support the body when the heart is not quite able to do its job.

They include artificial hearts and state-of-the-art heart transplant techniques. Both have become more common in the Washington, D.C. area.

But unlike Travis's case, the main cause of cardiomyopothy in this region is unchecked high blood pressure, Taylor says.

"It's another reason if you have high blood pressure to make sure your blood pressure is well controlled," he says.

Taylor says heart failure, when the heart is beating but simply can't meet the body's needs, is the fastest growing heart ailment in the country.

He says high blood pressure is part of the reason, so is our aging population, and the growing group of heart attack survivors who develop weakened hearts over time.

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