• autopsy;
  • cardiomyopathy;
  • paediatric

Aim:  Cardiomyopathy, a group of primary myocardial disorders, is an uncommon, but important, cause of death in childhood. This study examines the demographic, clinical and pathological features of fatal cardiomyopathy in childhood with particular reference to its classification and autopsy findings.

Method:  The method of this study was a retrospective structured review of all paediatric autopsies performed at a single specialist centre from 1995 to 2009 inclusive, in order to determine the demographic, clinical and pathological features of fatal cardiomyopathy.

Results:  From a total of 2229 autopsies performed at the centre during the study period on live-born infants and children, 34 confirmed cases of cardiomyopathy were identified (1.5%). More than half (59%) of these cases occurred in infants (less than 1 year of age). Heart weight of cardiomyopathy cases was significantly greater than those with normal hearts (P < 0.001), and 77% had heart weights above the 95th percentile of the normal expected range for age, including all of those over 1 year age. Of cardiomyopathy cases, 50% were primary dilated cardiomyopathy and 27% were primary hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Twelve of 34 cases (35%) presented as sudden unexpected death, the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy being only made at autopsy.

Conclusion:  Cardiomyopathy is an uncommon cause of death in infancy and childhood. It can present as sudden unexpected death and encompasses a range of aetiologies. Heart weight above the 95th percentile at autopsy is present in most cases but heart weight may be within the normal range in infants.