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Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.


Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

develops when one or both ventricles (lower chambers of your heart) are damaged and become enlarged. The enlarged ventricles are too weak to pump enough blood to your body for your usual daily activities.

What increases your risk for DCM:

  • Family history of DCM
  • Conditions that cause heart damage, such as coronary artery disease
  • Infections such as HIV, viruses, or toxoplasmosis
  • Long-term alcohol or drug abuse
  • Long-term conditions, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or autoimmune disorders
  • Medicines or treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, or antivirals

Signs and symptoms of DCM include:

  • Coughing, wheezing, or trouble breathing
  • Increasing fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, or fingers
  • Feeling of fullness and no appetite
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Fast or fluttering heartbeat, fainting episodes

How DCM is diagnosed:

  • An x-ray or MRI will show the size and thickness of your ventricles and if your heart is enlarged. If you have an MRI, you may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • An echocardiogram uses sound waves to take pictures of your heart. The pictures show the size of your ventricles, and how well they are pumping blood.
  • Cardiac catheterization is a procedure used to see inside your heart and its blood vessels. X-rays and dye injected into your heart's blood vessels allow your healthcare provider to see blood move through your heart. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US)if:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
    • You may also have any of the following:
      • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat
  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • You cough up blood.
  • You are weak, sweaty, or pale, with cold feet or hands.
  • You lose consciousness.

Call your doctor if:

  • You have more trouble breathing while you do your daily activities or exercise.
  • You have new swelling in your legs, ankles, or fingers.
  • You gain 2 or more pounds in a day.
  • You have constant pain or fullness in your abdomen, or you lose your appetite.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment may include:

  • Medicines may be given to help regulate your heart rhythm, your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure. You may also need medicines to help decrease extra fluids and improve blood flow to your heart. Blood thinners may also be needed.
  • Cardiac rehab is a program that will help you safely strengthen your heart. This plan includes exercise, relaxation, stress management, and heart-healthy nutrition instructions. Healthcare providers will make sure your medicines are helping to reduce your symptoms.
  • A surgically implanted device , such as a pacemaker or ventricular assist device (VAD), may be placed in your chest. The device may regulate your heartbeat or help your heart pump blood to your body.
  • Surgery may be done to treat other conditions and reduce your symptoms.

Manage your DCM:

  • Weigh yourself every morning. Use the same scale, in the same spot. Weigh yourself after you use the bathroom, but before you eat or drink anything. Wear the same type of clothing each day. Do not wear shoes. Keep a record of your daily weights so you will notice sudden weight gain. Swelling and weight gain are signs of fluid retention. If you are overweight, ask your healthcare provider how to lose weight safely.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods and limit sodium (salt). Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer canned and processed foods. Replace butter and margarine with heart-healthy oils such as olive oil and canola oil. Other heart-healthy foods include walnuts, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, and lean meats. You may need to eat less than 2 grams of salt per day. Do not use salt substitutes. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on heart-healthy and low-salt diets.

  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol may weaken your heart. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink any alcohol. If it is safe, talk to him or her about how much alcohol is safe for you.
  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoking weakens your heart and makes shortness of breath and other symptoms worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting.
  • Manage other health conditions. Diabetes, sleep apnea, and other heart conditions can put more stress on your heart if not managed.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

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