Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the most common form of cardiomyopathy. It is a condition in which the heart muscle becomes stretched and weakened. More specifically, the left ventricle of the heart—which is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood throughout the body—becomes enlarged and weak. As the rest of the heart muscle expands to hold more blood and compensate for the left ventricle, the heart eventually is unable to pump blood efficiently. Ultimately, dilated cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure. While the condition isn’t always life-threatening, it may require treatment and surgical intervention (including heart transplant surgery) in certain cases.
Causes of Dilated Cardiomyopathy
The direct cause of dilated cardiomyopathy, also known as congestive cardiomyopathy, is largely unknown.
However, there are several risk factors linked to the occurrence of dilated cardiomyopathy, including:
- Coronary heart disease
- High blood pressure
- A family history of heart problems, including idiopathic DCM
- Known heart defects or previous heart attacks
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Autoimmune disorders
- Heart infections
- Heart valve disease, or valvular cardiomyopathy
Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Not everyone with dilated cardiomyopathy experiences symptoms, but those who do frequently complain of issues caused by the lack of properly oxygenated blood, such as fatigue and shortness of breath.
These symptoms can make it difficult to exercise or even to simply walk about and complete normal tasks, and can be accompanied by:
- A loss of appetite
- A rapid pulse
- Weight gain
- Swelling of the abdomen and leg
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Diagnosing Dilated Cardiomyopathy
A physician will diagnose DCM by performing a physical exam and other tests. These tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Chest X-ray
- Exercise stress test
- Cardiac catheterization
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Radionuclide studies
Treatments for Dilated Cardiomyopathy
People who are affected by dilated cardiomyopathy generally need to take medications to control their symptoms. Some may need support from mechanical circulatory support (MCS) devices—such as a ventricular assist devices (VADs) and total artificial hearts—to help regulate their heartbeat.
Certain individuals may also undergo surgery to repair or replace their damaged heart valves or to remove weakened heart muscles. In some very severe cases, people affected by this condition experience advanced heart failure and conservative methods aren’t expected to improve their prognosis, necessitating a heart transplant.
Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute is a leader in implanting VADs and providing mechanical circulatory support for patients who do not immediately require a heart transplant.