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Dilated Cardiomyopathy - Topic Overview

How is dilated cardiomyopathy diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health. He or she will want to know about recent illnesses and about heart disease in your family. Your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs and check your legs for fluid buildup.

You may also have other tests, including:

In some cases, a doctor may want to look at a small sample of heart tissue, called a biopsy, to make a definite diagnosis.

How is it treated?

Treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy focuses on relieving your symptoms, improving heart function, and helping you live longer.

You will probably need to take several medicines to treat heart failure caused by dilated cardiomyopathy. It is very important to take your medicines exactly as your doctor tells you to and to keep taking them. If you don't, your heart failure could get worse.

Your doctor may suggest a mechanical device to help your heart pump blood or to prevent life-threatening irregular heart rhythms. Such devices include a pacemaker for heart failure (also called cardiac resynchronization therapy or CRT), an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), or a combination pacemaker and ICD. If your condition is very bad, a heart transplant may be an option.

Self-care is an important part of your treatment. Self-care includes the things you can do every day to feel better, stay healthy, and avoid the hospital.

  • Take your medicines as prescribed. This gives you the best chance of being helped by them. Some medicines for heart failure include:
    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). These make it easier for blood to flow.
    • Diuretics. These help remove excess fluid from the body.
    • Beta-blockers. These slow the heart rate and can help the heart fill with blood more completely.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. It can help slow down heart failure. Limit salt, try to get regular exercise, and don't smoke.
  • Watch for signs you're getting worse. Weighing yourself every day to watch for sudden weight gain is a good way to do this.
  • Find out what your triggers are, and learn to avoid them. Triggers are things that make your heart failure worse, often suddenly. A trigger may be eating too much salt, missing a dose of your medicine, or exercising too hard.

What can you expect with dilated cardiomyopathy?

Most of the time, dilated cardiomyopathy leads to heart failure. Heart failure usually gets worse over time, but treatment can slow the disease and help you feel better and live longer. In more and more cases, the problem is being found earlier, when it can be better managed.

Some people develop other problems, including:

  • Stroke.
  • Heart attack.
  • Sudden cardiac death, which means the heart suddenly stops working. This may be more likely to happen to people who have serious rhythm problems (arrhythmias) in one of the lower heart chambers (ventricles).

If a woman gets dilated cardiomyopathy from pregnancy, she should not get pregnant again. This is true even if her heart problem gets better.

If your disease is getting worse, you may want to think about making end-of-life decisions. It can be comforting to know that you will get the type of care you want.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 24, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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