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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.


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.

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.

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.


  • 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 help prevent blood clots. Clots can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. Many types of blood thinners are available. Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions for the type you are given. The following are general safety guidelines to follow while you are taking a blood thinner:
    • Watch for bleeding and bruising. Watch for bleeding from your gums or nose. Watch for blood in your urine and bowel movements. Use a soft washcloth on your skin, and a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth. This can keep your skin and gums from bleeding. If you shave, use an electric shaver. Do not play contact sports.
    • Tell your dentist and other healthcare providers that you take a blood thinner. Wear a bracelet or necklace that says you take this medicine.
    • Do not start or stop any other medicines or supplements unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Many medicines and supplements cannot be used with blood thinners.
    • Take your blood thinner exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Do not skip does or take less than prescribed. Tell your provider right away if you forget to take your blood thinner, or if you take too much.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell your provider if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your cardiologist as directed:

You may need more tests to check your condition. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them. Bring your questions and daily weight record to your visits.

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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

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.