It is difficult to distinguish between restrictive cardiomyopathy and constrictive pericarditis on the basis of clinical findings and simple investigation. Cardiac catheterisation has been the reference standard for diagnosis but even this does not always permit an accurate distinction. A Summagraphics digitiser and Prime 750 computer system were used to digitise the echocardiograms of 15 patients with restrictive cardiomyopathy, 10 with constrictive pericarditis and a group of 20 age and sex matched normal subjects of similar age and sex distribution. Compared with controls, patients with restrictive cardiomyopathy showed a significant reduction in the following variables (a) decreased fractional shortening, (b) decreased peak left ventricular filling and emptying rates, (c) decreased percentage posterior wall thickening, and (d) decreased peak left ventricular posterior wall thickening and thinning rates. Whereas patients with constrictive pericarditis only had significantly reduced peak left ventricular filling and posterior wall thinning rates and significantly increased posterior wall thinning rate. When patients with restrictive cardiomyopathy were compared with those with constrictive pericarditis the significant differences were: (a) decreased peak left ventricular emptying rate, (b) decreased percentage posterior wall thickening, and (c) decreased peak left ventricular posterior wall thickening and thinning rates. Digitisation of M mode echocardiograms, with particular attention to posterior wall function, may be a useful adjunct to cardiac catheterisation in distinguishing restrictive cardiomyopathy from constrictive pericarditis.
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