What is dilated cardiomyopathy?
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle, usually starting in your heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricle). The ventricle stretches and thins (dilates) and can’t pump blood as well as a healthy heart can. The term “cardiomyopathy” is a general term that refers to the abnormality of the heart muscle itself.
How common is dilated cardiomyopathy?
The condition affects people of all ages, including infants and children, but is most common in men ages 20 to 50. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy?
The common symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy are:
- Heart failure symptoms (shortness of breath and fatigue).
- Swelling of the lower extremities.
- Fatigue (feeling overly tired).
- Weight gain.
- Fainting (caused by conditions such as irregular heart rhythms, abnormal responses of the blood vessels during exercise, or no cause may be found).
- Palpitations (fluttering in the chest due to abnormal heart rhythms).
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Blood clots can form in the dilated left ventricle as a result of pooling of the blood. If a blood clot breaks off, it can lodge in an artery and disrupt blood flow to the brain, causing stroke. A clot can also block blood flow to the organs in the abdomen or legs.
- Chest pain or pressure.
- Sudden death.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes dilated cardiomyopathy?
The cause of dilated cardiomyopathy often can’t be determined. However, numerous factors can cause the left ventricle to dilate and weaken, including:
What increases my risk for dilated cardiomyopathy?
There are many risk factors for dilated cardiomyopathy, such as:
- Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack
- Family history of dilated cardiomyopathy
- Inflammation of heart muscle from immune system disorders, such as lupus
- Neuromuscular disorders, such as muscular dystrophy
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is dilated cardiomyopathy diagnosed?
DCM is diagnosed based on medical history (your symptoms and family history), physical exam, blood tests, electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), chest X-ray, echocardiogram, exercise stress test, cardiac catheterization, CT scan, and MRI.
Another test rarely done to determine the cause of a cardiomyopathy is a myocardial biopsy, or heart biopsy, where a tissue sample is taken from the heart and examined under a microsope to determine the cause of the symptoms.
If you have a relative with dilated cardiomyopathy, ask your doctor if you should be screened for the condition. Genetic testing may also be available to identify abnormal genes.
How is dilated cardiomyopathy treated?
If you have dilated cardiomyopathy, your doctor might recommend treatment for the underlying cause, if known. Treatment may also be suggested in order to improve blood flow and prevent further damage to your heart.
Doctors usually treat dilated cardiomyopathy with a combination of medications. Depending on your symptoms, you might need two or more of these drugs.
Drugs that have proved useful in the treatment of heart failure and dilated cardiomyopathy include:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. ACE inhibitors are a type of drug that widens or dilates blood vessels (vasodilator) to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and decrease the heart’s workload. ACE inhibitors may improve heart function.Side effects include low blood pressure, low white blood cell count, and kidney or liver problems.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers. These drugs have many of the beneficial effects of ACE inhibitors and may be an alternative for people who can’t tolerate ACE inhibitors. Side effects include diarrhea, muscle cramps and dizziness.
- Beta blockers. A beta blocker slows your heart rate, reduces blood pressure and may prevent some of the harmful effects of stress hormones, which are substances produced by your body that can worsen heart failure and trigger abnormal heart rhythms.Beta blockers may reduce signs and symptoms of heart failure and improve heart function. Side effects include dizziness and low blood pressure.
- Often called water pills, diuretics remove excess fluid and salt from your body. The drugs also decrease fluid in your lungs, so you can breathe more easily.
- This drug, also known as digitalis, strengthens your heart muscle contractions. It also tends to slow the heartbeat. Digoxin may reduce heart failure symptoms and improve your ability to be active.
- Blood-thinning medications. Your doctor may prescribe drugs, including aspirin or warfarin, to help prevent blood clots. Side effects include excessive bruising or bleeding.
- Implantable devices used to treat dilated cardiomyopathy include:
- Biventricular pacemakers, which use electrical impulses to coordinate the actions of the left and right ventricles.
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), which monitor heart rhythm and deliver electrical shocks when needed to control abnormal, rapid heartbeats, including those that cause the heart to stop. They can also function as pacemakers.
- Left ventricular assist devices (LVADs), which are mechanical devices implanted into the abdomen or chest and attached to a weakened heart to help it pump. They usually are considered after less invasive approaches are unsuccessful.
You may be a candidate for a heart transplant if medications and other treatments are no longer effective.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage dilated cardiomyopathy?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with dilated cardiomyopathy:
- Talk to your doctor about what activities would be safe and beneficial for you. In general, competitive sports aren’t recommended because they can increase the risk of the heart stopping and causing sudden death.
- Quit smoking. Your doctor can give you advice on what methods can help you stop.
- Don’t use illegal drugs or drink alcohol excessively. Using cocaine or other illegal drugs can strain your heart. Before you drink alcohol, ask your doctor for advice.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight makes your heart work harder. Lose weight if you’re overweight or obese.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Eating whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables, and limiting salt, added sugar, and cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats is good for your heart. Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian if you need help planning your diet.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Dilated cardiomyopathy. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dilated-cardiomyopathy/home/ovc-20342846. Accessed September 7, 2017.
Heart Disease: Dilated Cardiomyopathy. http://www.medicinenet.com/cardiomyopathy_dilated/article.htm. Accessed September 7, 2017.
Review Date: September 7, 2017 | Last Modified: September 7, 2017