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What is dilated cardiomyopathy?
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a serious condition that weakens your heart muscle and causes it to stretch, or dilate. When your heart muscle is weak, it can't pump out blood as well as it should, so more blood stays in your heart after each heartbeat. As more blood fills and stays in the heart, the heart muscle stretches even more and gets even weaker.
Most of the time, this leads to heart failure. Heart failure does not mean that your heart stops pumping. It means that your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs.
What causes dilated cardiomyopathy?
The most common type of dilated cardiomyopathy develops after a heart attack has damaged the heart muscle. But it can also be caused by many diseases or problems that may or may not be related to your heart. Sometimes the cause is not known.
Some of the things that can lead to dilated cardiomyopathy include:
- Coronary artery disease and heart attack.
- High blood pressure, which can put stress on the heart walls.
- Heart valve diseases, including aortic valve regurgitation and mitral valve regurgitation.
- Heartbeat problems (arrhythmias).
- Myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle. It is caused by a virus or an immune system problem.
- Drinking too much alcohol, using certain illegal drugs such as cocaine, or taking certain medicines such as chemotherapy.
- Being exposed to toxic metals, such as lead or mercury.
- Being pregnant. In rare cases, dilated cardiomyopathy develops toward the end of pregnancy or during the first 6 months after a woman gives birth. Experts don't know why this happens.
What are the symptoms?
You may not have any symptoms at first. Or you may have mild symptoms, such as feeling very tired or weak.
If your heart gets weaker, you will develop heart failure. When this happens, you will feel other symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath, especially with activity.
- Trouble breathing when you lie down.
- Swelling in your legs.
You may get these symptoms slowly, over months or years. Or you may get them suddenly, such as after pregnancy or an illness caused by a virus.
Heart failure that suddenly gets worse is an emergency. Get medical help right away if:
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You cough up pink, foamy mucus.
- You have a new irregular or rapid heartbeat.
When you have heart failure, keeping track of your symptoms every day is important. Call your doctor if:
- You have a sudden weight gain such as 3 lb (1.4 kg) or more in 2 to 3 days.
- Your ability to exercise changes.
- You have any change in your symptoms.
How is dilated cardiomyopathy diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health. He or she will want to know about recent illnesses and about heart disease in your family. Your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs and check your legs for fluid buildup.
You may also have other tests, including:
- An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG or EKG.
- A chest X-ray.
- An echocardiogram.
- Coronary catheterization (angiogram).
- Routine blood tests.
In some cases, a doctor may want to look at a small sample of heart tissue, called a biopsy, to make a definite diagnosis.
How is it treated?
Treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy focuses on relieving your symptoms, improving heart function, and helping you live longer.
You will probably need to take several medicines to treat heart failure caused by dilated cardiomyopathy. It is very important to take your medicines exactly as your doctor tells you to and to keep taking them. If you don't, your heart failure could get worse.
Your doctor may suggest a mechanical device to help your heart pump blood or to prevent life-threatening irregular heart rhythms. Such devices include a pacemaker for heart failure (also called cardiac resynchronization therapy or CRT), an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), or a combination pacemaker and ICD. If your condition is very bad, a heart transplant may be an option.
Self-care is an important part of your treatment. Self-care includes the things you can do every day to feel better, stay healthy, and avoid the hospital.
- Take your medicines as prescribed. This gives you the best chance of being helped by them. Some medicines for heart failure include:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). These make it easier for blood to flow.
- Diuretics. These help remove excess fluid from the body.
- Beta-blockers. These slow the heart rate and can help the heart fill with blood more completely.
- Live a healthy lifestyle. It can help slow down heart failure. Limit salt, try to get regular exercise, and don't smoke.
- Watch for signs you're getting worse. Weighing yourself every day to watch for sudden weight gain is a good way to do this.
- Find out what your triggers are, and learn to avoid them. Triggers are things that make your heart failure worse, often suddenly. A trigger may be eating too much salt, missing a dose of your medicine, or exercising too hard.
What can you expect with dilated cardiomyopathy?
Most of the time, dilated cardiomyopathy leads to heart failure. Heart failure usually gets worse over time, but treatment can slow the disease and help you feel better and live longer. In more and more cases, the problem is being found earlier, when it can be better managed.
Some people develop other problems, including:
- Heart attack.
- Sudden cardiac death, which means the heart suddenly stops working. This may be more likely to happen to people who have serious rhythm problems (arrhythmias) in one of the lower heart chambers (ventricles).
If a woman gets dilated cardiomyopathy from pregnancy, she should not get pregnant again. This is true even if her heart problem gets better.
If your disease is getting worse, you may want to think about making end-of-life decisions. It can be comforting to know that you will get the type of care you want.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
|Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.|
|Heart Failure: Should I Get a Pacemaker (Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy)?|
|Heart Failure: Should I Get an Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD)?|
|Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.|
|Healthy Eating: Eating Less Sodium|
|Heart Failure: Activity and Exercise|
|Heart Failure: Avoiding Triggers for Sudden Heart Failure|
|Heart Failure: Checking Your Weight|
|Heart Failure: Taking Medicines Properly|
|Heart Failure: Watching Your Fluids|
|Low-Salt Diets: Eating Out|
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about dilated cardiomyopathy:
Living with dilated cardiomyopathy:
Other Places To Get Help
|American Heart Association (AHA)|
|7272 Greenville Avenue|
|Dallas, TX 75231|
Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support.
|Heart Rhythm Society|
|1400 K Street NW|
|Washington, DC 20005|
The Heart Rhythm Society provides information for patients and the public about heart rhythm problems. The website includes a section that focuses on patient information. This information includes causes, prevention, tests, treatment, and patient stories about heart rhythm problems. You can use the Find a Specialist section of the website to search for a heart rhythm specialist practicing in your area.
|National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)|
|P.O. Box 30105|
|Bethesda, MD 20824-0105|
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:
|National Institutes of Health Senior Health|
|9000 Rockville Pike|
|Bethesda, MD 20892|
|Phone:||1-800-222-2225 Aging Information Center|
This website for older adults offers aging-related health information. The website's senior-friendly features include large print, simple navigation, and short, easy-to-read segments of information. A visitor to this website can click special buttons to hear the text aloud, make the text larger, or turn on higher contrast for easier viewing.
The site was developed by the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine, both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIHSeniorHealth features up-to-date health information from NIH. Also, the American Geriatrics Society provides independent review of some of the material found on this website.
Other Works Consulted
- Hare JM (2012). The dilated, restrictive, and infiltrative cardiomyopathies. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp.1561–1581. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Hunt SA, et al. (2009). 2009 focused update incorporated into the ACC/AHA 2005 guidelines for the diagnosis and management of heart failure in adults. A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation, 119(14): e391–e479.
- Mestroni L, et al. (2011). Dilated cardiomyopathies. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's the Heart, 13th ed., vol. 1, pp. 821–836. New York: McGraw-Hill.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||George Philippides, MD - Cardiology|
|Last Revised||July 24, 2012|
Last Revised: July 24, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
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