Dilated Cardiomyopathy

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the ventricles of the main pumping chamber of the heart become thin and stretched (dilated) and are unable to pump blood properly. It is a disease that is based on the term “cardiomyopathy” meaning that there is an abnormality of the heart muscle.

It can be life threatening and can contribute to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and blood clots. It can even lead to sudden death. Anyone of any age can have dilated cardiomyopathy but it is more common in men from 20-60 years of age.

What are the Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

The signs of dilated cardiomyopathy are those of the symptoms that are caused by it: heart failure or arrhythmias.

They can include shortness of breath (whether active or not active), fatigue, swelling of ankles, feet, legs, and abdomen, and reduced ability to exercise. You should see a doctor if you have any combination of these symptoms, especially if associated with chest pains that last for more than a few minutes.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Causes

Dilated cardiomyopathy is caused by damage to the heart which ultimately results in dilation of the left ventricle, the chamber that pumps the blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Scientists have identified several ways this damage and dilation can come about, although sometimes the cause is unknown.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is often inherited, with 20% to 35% of cases being caused by genetic disorders.

Certain viral infections can cause inflammation of the heart, such as coxsackie B or HIV. Some bacterial infections can also cause dilated cardiomyopathy, such as Chagas disease. In these cases, the inflammation damages the left ventricle, causing a buildup of scar tissue, stretching the heart muscle and reducing its strength.

Some other illnesses and conditions can lead to dilated cardiomyopathy, such as diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, or obesity. More rarely, extreme levels of stress, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, and systemic sclerosis can cause dilated cardiomyopathy. Chemotherapy treatment is also a risk factor, as is pregnancy.

The use of certain substances can also increase the risk of dilated cardiomyopathy, such as alcohol, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and cocaine.

How is Dilated Cardiomyopathy Treated?

There are three main treatments that your doctor may recommend if you have dilated cardiomyopathy: medication, devices, or heart transplant.

Medication

Medications are usually the first way that the condition may be treated and two or more of the drugs may be required. Some of the most common medications include:

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors: They dilate or widen blood vessels to lower the blood pressing, decrease the workload on the heart, and improve the blood flow.
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers: These have the same effects of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and are used as an alternative.
  • Diuretics (also called water pills): These help remove salt and excess fluid from lungs to help you breath more easily.
  • Beta blockers: This medication reduces blood pressure and slows the heart rate and improves heart function.
  • Blood thinners: This can include aspirin or warfarin and will help to prevent blood clots from forming.
  • Digoxin: This medicine helps to make muscle contractions stronger and slows the heartbeat.

Heart devices

Devices that can treat dilated cardiomyopathy include:

  • Heart pumps: A mechanical device that is implanted in the chest or abdomen to help a weak heart pump.
  • Biventricular pacemakers: Helps coordinate the actions of the left and right ventricles of the heart with electrical impulses.
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators: Deliver electric shocks as need to control rapid or irregular heartbeats and prevents the heart from stopping.

Transplants

A heart transplant is considered only when other methods do not work or are not effective anymore.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Prevention

In some cases of dilated cardiomyopathy with a genetic cause, the condition cannot be prevented.

If you suffer from a condition that can cause dilated cardiomyopathy, a preventive measure will be the proper management of that condition. This will involve taking all medications for that condition as prescribed by your doctor, making any recommended lifestyle changes, and getting regular check ups so that you can monitor the progress of the condition and make adjustments to your treatment as needed.

If you are at risk of dilated cardiomyopathy, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes that are known to be beneficial to heart health. These may include regular physical exercise, not smoking, eating a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol, avoiding recreational drugs, and reducing your stress levels.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 14, 2017