Dilated Cardiomyopathy | William G. & Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine | Loyola Medicine

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Overview and Facts about Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the most common form of cardiomyopathy. Typically, it occurs in adults between the ages of 20 and 60 years. It affects the upper (ventricles) and lower (atria) chambers of the heart. DCM usually starts in the left ventricle, causing the chamber to enlarge. Often, the disease spreads to the right ventricle and eventually to the atria. Over time, the heart muscles are unable to pump blood very well and heart failure can occur.

Signs and Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

DCM signs and symptoms can include:

  • Swelling of the legs and feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Pressure or pain in the chest

Causes and Risk Factors of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Often the cause of DCM is not known. Around one-third of sufferers have inherited it from a parent. Other conditions can also cause this disease, such as:

  • Viral infections that inflame the heart muscle
  • Heart attack
  • Coronary heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Complications during the last trimester of pregnancy
  • Alcohol
  • Certain drugs, such as amphetamines and cocaine

Tests and Diagnosis of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

After discussing your personal and family history with heart conditions, your doctor will perform a physical examination, listening to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Your doctor may recommend other tests, including:

  • Blood tests: These will help your doctor to see if you have a metabolic disorder, infection or any toxins in your blood which may cause DCM.
  • Chest X-ray: This test will reveal any changes in the size or structure of your heart.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): An ECG records the electrical impulses traveling through your heart. It will show any signs of an abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Echocardiogram: This device uses sound waves to produce images of the heart. The test will show if the chambers of your heart are enlarged.
  • Stress test: An exercise stress test involves walking or running on a treadmill while the doctor measures your oxygen use and heart rate.
  • MRI or CT scan: In some cases, your doctor may order this test to evaluate how your heart is pumping.

Treatment and Care for Dilated Cardiomyopathy

DCM is usually treated with a combination of medications, which may include:

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Beta blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Digoxin
  • Blood-thinning medications

Your doctor may recommend an implantable device to treat DCM, such as:

If these treatments are no longer effective, you may be an eligible candidate for a heart transplant.