Dilated cardiomyopathy

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:


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:

Exams 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.


Treatment for cardiomyopathies focuses on treating heart failure. They include:

  • Making important changes in your lifestyle
  • Knowing your body and the symptoms of heart failure
  • Taking medicines for heart failure
  • A pacemaker to help treat slow heart rates or help your heart contract in a more coordinated fashion
  • A defibrillator that recognizes life-threatening, abnormal heart rhythms and sends an electrical pulse to stop them

See also: Heart failure

Cardiac catheterization might be done to see if you may benefit from coronary artery bypass (CABG) surgery or a balloon procedure (angioplasty), which could improve blood flow to the damaged or weakened heart muscle.

A heart transplant may be recommended for patients who have failed all the standard treatments and still have very severe symptoms.

Outlook (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.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

Alternative Names

Cardiomyopathy - dilated


Hare JM. The dilated, restrictive, and infiltrative cardiomyopathies. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 68.

Wexler RK, Elton T, Pleister A, Feldman D. Cardiomyopathy: An overview. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79:778-784.

Bernstein D. Diseases of the myocardium. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 439.

Update Date: 5/23/2012

Reviewed by: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington.

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