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Heart, section through the middle

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Heart, front view


Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged, and it cannot pump blood efficiently. The decreased heart function can affect the lungs, liver, and other body systems.

There are several different types of cardiomyopathy . Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common form.

See also:

Alternative Names:

Cardiomyopathy - dilated

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

There are many causes of dilated cardiomyopathy. Some of these are:

This condition can affect anyone at any age. However, it is most common in adult men.

The most common causes of dilated cardiomyopathy in children are:

  • Heart (coronary) disease
  • Myocarditis
  • Some infections
  • Unknown cause (idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy)


Symptoms of heart failure are most common. Usually, they develop slowly over time. However, sometimes symptoms start very suddenly and are severe. Common symptoms are:

Other symptoms may include:

Signs and tests:

Cardiomyopathy is usually discovered when the doctor is examining and testing you for the cause of heart failure .

  • Tapping over the heart with the fingers and feeling the area may indicate that the heart is enlarged.
  • Listening to the chest with a stethoscope reveals lung crackles, heart murmur, or other abnormal sounds.
  • The liver may be enlarged.
  • Neck veins may be bulging.

A number of laboratory tests may be done to determine the cause:

  • Antinuclear antibody (ANA ), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR ), and other tests to diagnose autoimmune illnesses
  • Antibody test to identify infections such as Lyme disease and HIV
  • Serum TSH and T4 test to identify thyroid problems

Children will have:

  • Poor growth
  • Pale skin
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Weak pulses in the legs and arms

Heart enlargement, congestion of the lungs, decreased movement/functioning of the heart, or heart failure may show on these tests:

Other tests may include:

Lab tests vary depending on the suspected cause.


When the cause of the dilated cardiomyopathy can be found, that condition is treated. For example, if alcohol or cocaine use is the cause, your doctor will ask you to stop drinking alcohol or using cocaine. Often, no specific cause can be found.

Attempts are also made to find a "trigger" that may have caused a sudden worsening in a patient's symptoms. Examples include not taking medication correctly, increasing salt or fluid intake, or drinking excess alcohol.

Treatment for cardiomyopathies focuses on treating heart failure. Drugs and treatments that may be used include:

  • ACE-inhibitors such as captopril, enalapril, lisinopril, and ramipril
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) such as losartan and candesartan
  • Diuretics, including thiazide, loop diuretics, and potassium-sparing diuretics
  • Digitalis glycosides
  • Beta-blockers, such as carvedilol and metoprolol
  • Drugs that dilate blood vessels (vasodilators)

See also: Heart failure

Some people may benefit from the following heart devices:

A low-salt diet may be prescribed for adults, and fluid may be restricted in some cases. You can usually continue your regular activities, if you are able.

You may be asked to monitor your body weight daily. Weight gain of 3 pounds or more over 1 or 2 days may indicate fluid buildup (in adults).

Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol, which may make the symptoms worse.

If the heart function remains poor, a heart transplant may be considered.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

The outcome varies. Some people remain in a stable condition for long periods of time, some continue to gradually get sicker, and others quickly get worse. Cardiomyopathy can only be corrected if the disease that caused it can be cured.

About one-third of children recover completely, one-third recover but continue to have some heart problems, and one-third die.


Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of cardiomyopathy.

If chest pain, palpitations, or faintness develop seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

  • Eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet
  • Exercise to improve heart fitness
  • Stop smoking
  • Minimize alcohol consumption


Hare JM. The dilated, restrictive, and infiltrative cardiomyopathies. Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 64.

Hunt SA, Abraham WT, Chin MH, Fedlman AM, Francis GS, Ganiats TG, et al. ACC/AHA 2005 Guideline Update for the Diagnosis and Management of Chronic Heart Failure in the Adult: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Update the 2001 Guidelines for the Evaluation and Management of Heart Failure): developed in collaboration with the American College of Chest Physicians and the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation: endorsed by the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation. 2005;112:1825-1852.

Dickstein K, Cohen-Solal A, Filippatos, G, McMurray JJV, Ponikowski P, Poole-Wilson PA, et al. ESC Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic heart failure 2008: the Task Force for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute and Chronic Heart Failure 2008 of the European Society of Cardiology, Developed in collaboration with the Heart Failure Association of the ESC (HFA) and endorsed by the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM). Eur Heart J. 2008;29:2388-2442.

Review Date: 4/23/2009
Reviewed By: Alan Berger, MD, Assistant Professor, Divisions of Cardiology and Epidemiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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