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.
If your heart gets weaker, you may develop 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.
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:
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 may develop heart failure. If this happens, you will feel other symptoms, including:
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:
Keeping track of your symptoms every day is important. Call your doctor if:
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:
In some cases, a doctor may want to look at a small sample of heart tissue, called a biopsy, to make a definite diagnosis.
Treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy focuses on relieving your symptoms, improving heart function, and helping you live longer. You may also have treatment for the cause of the cardiomyopathy.
You will probably need to take several medicines. 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 function 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.
If your heart gets weaker, you may develop heart failure. If the cause of dilated cardiomyopathy can be treated, this can slow or stop the progression of the disease. For some types of cardiomyopathy, treatment can help the heart work better.
Some people develop other problems, including:
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.
Other Works Consulted
- Falk RH, Hershberger RE (2015). The dilated, restrictive, and infiltrative cardiomyopathies. In DL Mann et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 10th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1551–1573. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- 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.
- Yancy CW, et al. (2013). 2013 ACCF/AHA Guideline for the management of heart failure: A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 62(16): e147–e239.
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