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Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is when the heart chambers enlarge and lose their ability to contract. It often starts in the left ventricle (bottom chamber). As the disease gets worse, it may spread to the right ventricle and to the atria (top chambers). As the heart chamber widens, it becomes weak and does not contract well. Eventually, the heart can't pump as much blood forward as it normally would. This causes fluid to back up in the lungs and build up in the body. This is called heart failure.
DCM is somewhat uncommon, but not rare. It affects men more often than women and tends to occur in adults ages 20 to 60 years old.
Some types of DCM are reversible. Symptoms may improve with treatment. Other types of DCM are irreversible, and the damage is permanent.
Many different causes can lead to DCM, such as:
DCM sometimes has different names. For example, alcoholic cardiomyopathy is another name for DCM that occurs from alcohol abuse.
A range of genetic diseases can also cause DCM. These people have what is called familial dilated cardiomyopathy.
For many people with DCM, the cause is unknown. This is called idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.
If you have a relative with DCM, you may be at higher risk of getting it yourself. If so, you may require monitoring for the disease. Some things you can do to lower your risk include:
In its early stages, DCM may not have any symptoms. Symptoms may get worse gradually or more quickly. Some symptoms include:
Your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history. This includes any family history of heart disease or sudden death. He or she will give you a physical exam. You may also have tests such as:
Depending on your medical history, you may have other tests such as:
Treatment of DCM depends on severity and cause. The first step is to treat any underlying causes. For example:
In some cases, DCM gets much better after treatment of an underlying cause. In other cases, the damage is permanent. Then the treatment focuses on managing symptoms. Your healthcare provider might prescribe treatments such as:
Your healthcare provider might also advise an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). You may need this if you are at risk for heart rhythms that can cause sudden death. If you also have coronary artery disease or severe valve disease, you may need a procedure or heart surgery. If your condition becomes very severe, you may need a heart transplant in the future.
Complications that can occur include:
Some cases of DCM can be prevented. Avoiding abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs may prevent DCM. Quick treatment of other medical causes can also prevent some cases of DCM.
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions about how to manage your DCM.
See a healthcare provider right away if you have severe symptoms like chest pain or severe shortness of breath. See your healthcare provider if you gain excessive weight. If your symptoms are gradually increasing, see your healthcare provider soon.
DCM affects the heart muscle. The heart enlarges and becomes thin, making it unable to pump as well. It can make the heart unable to pump enough blood. It can also sometimes lead to dangerous heart rhythms and fluid retention. It is important that you:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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