What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

Cross section of enlarged heart. Heart walls are thin.If you have cardiomyopathy, you have a problem with the muscle tissue that makes up your heart. Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common type of cardiomyopathy. It happens when the walls of the heart thin and the heart enlarges. As a result, your heart may not be pumping as well as it should. This can cause severe problems for the rest of your body and worsen existing heart conditions. You and your healthcare provider can work together to help your heart function better and reduce the effects on your life. Dilated cardiomyopathy can occur from heavy alcohol use, diabetes, and previous heart damage. Rarely, it can be cause by genetic inheritance, infection, or certain medicines.

Symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy

Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially when you exert yourself

  • Unexplained tiredness

  • Chest pain

  • Fluid buildup in the lungs (you may need extra pillows to prop you up so that you can breathe better when you lie down)

  • Fluid retention causing swollen feet or ankles or unexplained weight gain

  • Heart skipping beats, fluttering, or thumping

  • Fainting, dizziness, or lightheadedness

  • Swelling of the veins of the neck

When you have dilated cardiomyopathy

With dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle has been damaged. A damaged heart muscle can't  pump as much blood as a normal heart. To try to pump enough blood, the heart muscle stretches so it can hold more. The chambers, especially on the left side of the heart, often dilate (get larger). Larger chambers may help move more blood for a while. But, in time, the stretched-out muscle gets even weaker and tires out. This causes problems with blood delivery to the rest of your body and worsens heart function.

Treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy doesn’t go away. But it can be treated. Treatment can help keep cardiomyopathy from getting worse, and can reduce your symptoms. Treatment can also help prevent worsening heart failure, blood clots, heart valve problems, and arrhythmias.  Your healthcare provider will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you feel better now and prevent problems in the future. Most often, the symptoms can be managed by medicines and lifestyle changes. Some people have severe symptoms and need to go into the hospital for advanced treatments such as mechanical assist devices or a heart transplant.

Following your treatment plan

Your treatment plan may include:

  • Making lifestyle changes, such as balancing activity and rest, quitting smoking, and tracking your weight

  • Eating less salt, as advised

  • Taking all medicines as prescribed by your healthcare provider

  • Reducing or eliminating alcohol intake

  • Keep track of how you feel in a journal

 Call your provider right away if you have symptoms that are getting worse.


Be sure to see your healthcare provider regularly. Mention any problems you are having with your treatment plan. Be honest if you are not doing something your provider has suggested. He or she may be able to make some changes to help your plan work better for you.