Dilated Heart Failure

What is dilated heart failure? The experts at Tampa General Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute explore this condition.  

Dilated heart failure is a complication of dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition characterized by the gradual stretching and thinning of the heart muscle. As this muscle grows progressively weaker, it becomes more and more difficult for the heart to properly pump blood throughout the body. In instances when dilated cardiomyopathy leads to cardiac failure, it’s known as dilated heart failure. 

Causes of Dilated Heart Failure

Dilated cardiomyopathy is often idiopathic (meaning that the exact cause is unknown), but some potential causes of this underlying condition of dilated heart failure include:

  • Heart valve disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • A viral or parasitic infection such as Chagas disease
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Using drugs that can be harmful to the heart, such as amphetamines and cocaine
  • Exposure to environmental toxins

In some instances, dilated cardiomyopathy may be passed from one generation to another. Pregnancy and childbirth can also cause dilated cardiomyopathy, but it’s generally reversible.

Symptoms of Dilated Heart Failure

Because dilated cardiomyopathy makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood, the resulting drop in oxygenated blood flow can cause someone with dilated heart failure to experience:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Enlarged veins within the neck, abdomen, legs and feet

Diagnosing Dilated Heart Failure

When diagnosing dilated cardiomyopathy—the underlying condition that can lead to the development of dilated heart failure—physicians will generally perform a physical examination and order tests such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Chest X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Echocardiograms
  • Electrocardiograms (EKGs)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Myocardial biopsies
  • Radionuclide studies

Treatment for Dilated Heart Failure

At Tampa General Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute, treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy will depend on how far a patient’s condition has progressed. Our physicians may recommend:

  • Lifestyle changes to improve the heart’s overall health, including eating a low-sodium diet, exercising on a regular basis and quitting smoking
  • Medication to improve cardiac function, relieve any resulting symptoms and prevent complications
  • Surgery to implant a pacemaker or a defibrillator, repair faulty valves, bypass damaged areas of the heart or perform a heart transplant