What is dilated cardiomyopathy?
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart muscle weakens and one or more of the chambers of the heart start to stretch or “dilate”. It usually starts with the heart’s main pumping chamber (called the left ventricle). Once this chamber dilates and becomes less efficient, it no longer is able to pump blood as well as it should. This can lead to problems for the person, and results in a pattern of heart illness called “heart failure”.
The term “heart failure” is misleading. If your doctor tells you that you have heart failure, it does not mean your heart has stopped working. It just means that your heart has trouble keeping up with your body’s demand for blood and oxygen (which is carried in the blood). Your heart is still working – just not as efficiently as it needs to.
What are the symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy?
At first, dilated cardiomyopathy often does not cause symptoms. But as the condition gets worse, it can cause:
difficulty with breathing, especially during exercise
shortness of breath when lying down or asleep
difficulty doing physical activity or exercise
swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs
How is dilated cardiomyopathy diagnosed?
Your doctor will take a full medical history and perform a thorough examination. He/she may then order a number of stet. These can include:
- Chest X-ray – A chest X-ray shows if there is fluid in the lungs. It also shows the general shape and size of the heart and large blood vessels in the chest.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – measures the electrical activity in your heart. It can show if your heart beats in a normal rhythm and if you have had a heart attack in the past.
- Echocardiogram (or “echo” for short) – An echo uses sound waves to create an image of the heart. This test allows doctors to measure the walls and chambers of the heart, see how well the heart is pumping, and see how well the heart valves are working.
- Stress test – exercising on a treadmill or exercise bike while monitoring your ECG is a common way that doctors screen for coronary heart disease (blockages in your heart coronary arteries).
Coronary angiogram – an invasive test where a thin tube (catheter) is inserted into your body and advanced to your heart. Dye is injected through the catheter into the coronary arteries and X-ray pictures are taken. It is the best test to diagnose coronary artery disease.
How is dilated cardiomyopathy treated?
Treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy depends on what is causing it and how severe it is. For example, in people who have cardiomyopathy caused by alcohol use, an important part of treatment is avoiding alcohol. Other treatments include the use of various drugs including those that reduce fluid build up in the body, help improve the pumping function of the heart and correct the balance of hormones in the body. Special devices such