Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

What is it?

Dilated cardiomyopathy, or congestive cardiomyopathy, is the most common form of cardiomyopathy which affects the chamber of the heart by weakening their walls. If the chamber walls become weak enough, the heart can no longer perform is normal pumping action. It is a serious condition that gets worse over time.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Dilated cardiomyopathy may be caused by coronary artery disease, bacterial infections, or myocarditis which causes viral cardiomyopathy. The heart muscle is no longer able pump strongly enough. The remaining, healthy heart muscle stretches and becomes thicker (hypertrophies) to pump more effectively.

As the muscle is stretched, it causes the heart to enlarge which is called cardiomegaly. Long-term cardiomegaly affects circulation and causes excess body fluid to build up in the lungs, abdomen and legs. This fluid buildup makes breathing difficult and causes swelling, commonly referred to as edema, which may result in heart failure.

Additionally, blood flows more slowly through an enlarged heart, so blood clots may easily form. These clots can break free and enter the circulation, ending up in the lungs. They can block blood vessels causing a variety of problems. It the blocked vessel is in the brain, a stroke can result. If it is in an artery of the heart, a heart attack can result.

Other causes may include:

  • Poorly controlled diabetes or thyroid disease
  • Heavy drinking or drug use
  • Poor nutrition

The symptoms depend on what has caused the condition. If an infection caused cardiomyopathy, the symptoms will be those most often associated with the common cold or flu: chills, fever, overall aches, and fatigue.

When the heart becomes very enlarged, symptoms may include chest pain, extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, and swelling of the legs and ankles. All of these are the early signs of heart failure.

If the dilated cardiomyopathy occurs because of coronary artery disease, symptoms may be shortness of breath when active and a tendency to get tired easily.

Dilated cardiomyopathy triggers a downward spiral of complications. It can cause heart murmurs or arrhythmias may develop.

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Diagnostic testing and procedures are the first step in establishing a treatment strategy. A doctor may order tests or perform the following procedures:

Treatment usually consists of dealing with the underlying cause, such as not drinking alcohol if alcohol abuse was a factor or taking antibiotics if a bacterial infection was the cause. If the underlying cause was coronary artery disease that also should be treated through lifestyle change, medicines, or surgery which may be needed.

Regardless of the cause of the condition, most people with dilated cardiomyopathy are given drugs that prevent blood clots. It is important to get enough rest and to avoid stress or anything that strains the heart. The heart damage can be reversed in some cases of alcohol-caused dilated cardiomyopathy; quitting drinking altogether allows your body to repair itself.

St. Luke's Heart & Vascular