Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the most common type of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy. This type of heart muscle disease occurs mostly in adults aged 20 to 60, and affects men more often than women.

Dilated cardiomyopathy affects the heart’s ability to pump blood. It occurs when the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber becomes dilated.  This causes the inside of the left ventricle to enlarge and over time causes the heart to become weak.

To compensate for its weakened pumping ability, the heart chamber continues to stretch to hold more blood. This helps strengthen the heart’s contractions and keep blood moving, but over time, the stretching weakens the heart muscle walls. The kidneys respond by retaining fluid and sodium, which causes fluid to build up in the legs, ankles, feet, lungs or other organs. Eventually, the body becomes congested and congestive heart failure results. Learn more about heart failure symptoms.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Symptoms

Common signs andsymptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy include:

  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
  • Blood clots due to blood flowing more slowly through the body
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting, due to irregular heart rhythm or abnormal responses of the blood vessels during exercise
  • Fatigue and an inability to carry out normal activities
  • Heart valve problems
  • Palpitations or fluttering in the chest due to abnormal heart rhythms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the ankles, feet and legs
  • Weight gain, cough and congestion related to fluid retention

Risks and Causes of Cardiomyopathy 

In more than half of the cases of dilated cardiomyopathy, the cause is unknown. As many as one-third of those with dilated cardiomyopathy inherit it from their parents. Dilated cardiomyopathy is more common among African Americans than in Caucasians.

Certain diseases, conditions, and substances can also cause dilated cardiomyopathy, including:

  • Alcohol, especially if you also have a poor diet
  • Certain drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, and two medicines to treat cancer: doxorubicin and daunorubicin
  • Chronic exposure to toxins, such as cobalt
  • Complications during the last month of pregnancy or within 5 months of birth
  • Coronary artery disease, heart attack, diabetes, thyroid disease, viral hepatitis and HIV
  • Infections, especially viral infections that inflame the heart muscle

Diagnosing Cardiomyopathy

Your doctor will diagnose cardiomyopathy based on your medical history, a physical exam and results from various cardiac testsand procedures. These may include:

Treating Cardiomyopathy

The primary goal of treating dilated cardiomyopathy is to improve cardiac function and reduce symptoms. Patients usually take several medications to treat DCM. Doctors also recommend lifestyle changes to decrease symptoms and improve quality of life.

Your doctor may also prescribe any of the following medications to help control your symptoms:

  • ACE inhibitors or (ARB) Angiotensin Receptor Blockers to help relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure and decrease the heart's workload
  • Aldosterone Antagonists which may reverse scarring of the heart and help people with heart failure live longer
  • Beta blockers to slow the heart and limit disease progression
  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots
  • Digitalis to slow and regulate the heart rate, and modestly increase its force of contractions
  • Diuretics to eliminate extra fluid
  • Special medications to improve the outcome in people with dilated cardiomyopathy

Lifestyle changes may include:

  • Adhering to a new exercise routine, such as low-impact arobics
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid cigarette smoking
  • Avoid recreational drugs
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing salt intake

Implantable devices may include:

  • Biventricular pacemaker
  • Cardioverter defibrillator 
  • Device therapy for patients with heart failure

Surgical options may include:

  • Heart transplant or other options to treat heart failure
  • Procedures to treat scarred or thinned muscle tissue
  • Valve surgery

A Leader in Treating Complex Cardiovascular Disease

Our goal is to help patients with dilated cardiomyopathy enjoy the best quality of life possible through lifestyle recommendations, medical management, catheter-based intervention or surgical options. We are dedicated to providing exceptional care and the best patient care experience possible.

Aurora offers the best-in-class services and treatments, and some are unique to the areas we serve. You’ll find our doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.