Key Points about Dilated Cardiomyopathy

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when there is an enlargement and weakening of the heart’s main chamber, which impairs the heart’s ability to pump blood.
  • It can be caused by alcohol or drug abuse, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.
  • Symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy may include fatigue, trouble breathing, chest pain, and swelling of the lower extremities—although not all people with the condition experience symptoms.
  • Treatments for dilated cardiomyopathy include certain medications, implanted devices, and in rare cases, heart transplant.
  • Call your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy.
Common related conditions
Heart (Cardiovascular) Disease Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Overview

Dilated cardiomyopathy is marked by an enlargement and weakening of the heart’s main chamber, which impairs the heart’s ability to pump blood. This weakening can result from a variety of factors, such as alcohol or drug abuse, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

Dilated cardiomyopathy can be life-threatening, although not all people experience symptoms. People who do experience symptoms may notice fatigue, trouble breathing, chest pain, and swelling of the lower extremities. Dilated cardiomyopathy can be treated with certain medications, implanted devices, and in cases that do not respond to other treatments, heart transplant.

Call your doctor if you have a family history of dilated cardiomyopathy, or if you have any symptoms of the condition. Seek emergency medical care if you are struggling to breathe or have chest pain lasting for several minutes. 

Dilated cardiomyopathy causes

The main pumping chamber of the heart, the left ventricle, can become weakened by a variety of factors, such as:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excessive cocaine use
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Infections
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Pregnancy complications

Oftentimes, however, the exact cause of the condition cannot be identified.

Dilated cardiomyopathy risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of developing dilated cardiomyopathy if you:

  • Are a man between ages 20 and 50
  • Have family members with the condition
  • Have suffered a heart attack that caused heart muscle damage
  • Have certain immune system or neuromuscular disorders

Dilated cardiomyopathy symptoms

People with dilated cardiomyopathy may experience:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble exercising
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the legs, feet, ankles or abdomen
  • Strange noises accompanying your heart beats

Dilated cardiomyopathy complications

Dilated cardiomyopathy can lead to complications such as:

  • Heart failure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Blood clots
  • Impaired blood flow from the heart
  • A buildup of fluid in the lungs or other body parts
  • Arrhythmias, or abnormal heart beats

Dilated cardiomyopathy diagnosis

In addition to reviewing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may order tests to diagnose dilated cardiomyopathy, such as:

  • A chest X-ray
  • A blood test
  • An exercise stress test
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Cardiac catheterization

Dilated cardiomyopathy treatment

If your dilated cardiomyopathy has an apparent cause, your doctor will provide treatment for that condition. Other treatments may include:

  • Medications
  • Implanted devices that facilitate heart function
  • A heart transplant, if no other treatments are effective

When to seek care

Seek emergency medical attention if you:

  • Are having trouble breathing
  • Have chest pain for longer than several minutes

You should also set up an appointment with your doctor if you:

  • Have immediate family members with dilated cardiomyopathy, as you may want to receive regular screening for the condition
  • Have any symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy

Next Steps

You can manage symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy and prevent it from worsening by:

  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Avoiding illegal drugs, particularly stimulants
  • Maintaining a healthy diet low in sodium
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get adequate, high-quality sleep every night