Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle, primarily affecting your heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle). The left ventricle becomes enlarged (dilated) and can't pump blood to your body with as much force as a healthy heart can.
Dilated cardiomyopathy doesn't necessarily cause symptoms, but for some people the disease is life-threatening. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a common cause of heart failure, the inability of the heart to supply the body's tissue and organs with enough blood. Dilated cardiomyopathy may also cause irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia), blood clots or sudden death.
Dilated cardiomyopathy may affect people of all ages, including infants and children. Treatments may be available for the underlying cause of dilated cardiomyopathy, or to improve blood flow and reduce symptoms.
If you have dilated cardiomyopathy, you're likely to have signs and symptoms when the disease has caused heart failure or arrhythmias. Dilated cardiomyopathy symptoms include:
When to see a doctor
If a member of your family has been diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, talk to your doctor about having you or other family members screened for dilated cardiomyopathy. Early detection may benefit people with inherited forms of dilated cardiomyopathy who have no apparent signs or symptoms.
Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when your heart's main pumping chamber (the left ventricle) doesn't pump as efficiently as a healthy heart. The muscles of the left ventricle stretch and become thinner (dilate). Dilating causes the heart muscle to weaken, and over time, the condition can cause heart failure.
Often, the cause of dilated cardiomyopathy can't be determined. Such cases are called idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.
There are numerous conditions that can cause the left ventricle to dilate and weaken. One example is damage that occurs during a heart attack. Strictly speaking, this isn't cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy is a primary problem affecting the heart muscle. Damage that occurs after a problem such as a heart attack is considered a secondary cause. Still, many people use the term cardiomyopathy to describe secondary causes of heart muscle weakness.
Some known causes of dilated cardiomyopathy are:
Compared with a healthy heart, dilated cardiomyopathy causes the chambers of the heart to enlarge, which can lead to heart failure if left untreated. ...
Many factors can change and enlarge your heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle). The risk factors for dilated cardiomyopathy include:
Enlargement of the left ventricle and its inability to pump blood efficiently can cause any of the following complications:
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you may have dilated cardiomyopathy, or are worried about your risk because of a family history, make an appointment with your family doctor. If dilated cardiomyopathy is found early, your treatment may be easier and more effective. Eventually, however, you may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For dilated cardiomyopathy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
If you have symptoms associated with heart failure or arrhythmia — such as shortness of breath or fatigue — your doctor will order tests to check your heart's function, identify possible causes of your illness and decide on treatment. For some of the exams, your doctor may refer you to a heart specialist (cardiologist) or specialized technicians.
The results of some tests may help your doctor decide what additional tests to order.
Treatments and drugs
The goals of treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy are to treat an underlying cause if it's known, improve blood flow, reduce symptoms and prevent further heart damage.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you have dilated cardiomyopathy, these self-care strategies may help:
If you eliminate lifestyle habits that can contribute to dilated cardiomyopathy, you may prevent or minimize effects of the disease:
Last Updated: 2011-09-16
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