An Overview of Dilated Cardiomyopathy Heart Failure

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Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common type. The other two types are hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and restrictive cardiomyopathy.

In dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle is weakened and unable to contract normally. To compensate, the muscle "stretches," causing the heart to dilate. This dilation is especially prominent in the left ventricle, one of the four chambers in your heart.

This article looks at the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy. It also discusses some of the ways this condition is treated.

Potential Causes of Dilated Cardiomyopathy Heart Failure

Theresa Chiechi / Verywell

Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of heart failure. Many people, including many healthcare providers, use the term "heart failure" as a virtual synonym for dilated cardiomyopathy.

The symptoms of this condition are the classic symptoms of heart failure. These include:

  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles
  • Weakness
  • Poor exercise tolerance
  • Palpitations
  • Lightheadedness

Causes

Anything that can weaken the heart muscle is a potential cause of dilated cardiomyopathy. This includes a large number of medical conditions, such as:

Diagnosis

This condition can be diagnosed with an echocardiogram or a MUGA scan. An echocardiogram is a test that uses sound waves to visualize the heart. Similarly, a MUGA scan also creates a picture of the heart, but with a radioactive tracer. These tests help your healthcare provider identify enlarged cardiac chambers, especially the left ventricle.

A key piece of information these tests provide is the left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF). This is the proportion of blood volume the left ventricle ejects with each heartbeat. A normal LVEF is 50% or higher, which means the left ventricle should eject at least half its blood volume. In dilated cardiomyopathy, the LVEF is usually below 50%.

The degree of reduction in LVEF is a good way for your healthcare provider to judge the amount of damage to your left ventricle. This test may be repeated over time to see if your cardiomyopathy is worsening or improving.

Treatment

Dilated cardiomyopathy may have a reversible cause. This means it may be possible to halt its progress or even reverse the damage. Your healthcare provider will consider a number of possibilities, such as:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart valve disorders
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Hidden alcohol or cocaine usage
  • Thyroid disease

If your condition doesn't improve after treating the underlying cause, you may need ongoing treatment to manage your symptoms, such as:

  • Lifestyle changes like a low-sodium diet and exercise
  • Medication like diuretics, beta-blockers, and ACE inhibitors
  • Anticoagulants (blood thinners) 
  • An implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which can prevent sudden death if your heart rhythm becomes dangerously abnormal

If you or a loved one has this condition, it's a good idea to become familiar with treatment options. Discuss these options with your healthcare provider.

It is also a good idea to have a cardiologist oversee your care. A cardiologist is a physician who specializes in the heart. This will help ensure you're getting the right treatment, and it will also allow you to stay informed if there are any potential breakthroughs in treating this very serious condition.

Summary

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a weakening of the heart muscle. It is the most common cause of heart failure.

This condition can have a number of causes, including coronary artery disease, thyroid disease, and alcohol or cocaine abuse. Some of these conditions are reversible.

If you are diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, talk to your healthcare provider about your treatment options. It is also a good idea to consult a cardiologist.

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  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Dilated cardiomyopathy.

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