What is dilated cardiomyopathy?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a common form of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy. If an individual has this condition, the ability of the heart to pump blood is reduced since the left ventricle is dilated, enlarged and weak.

Initially, the heart chambers respond by stretching to be able to pump more blood throughout the body. This strengthens the contraction of the heart and keep the blood flowing for a brief period.


Palpitations or chest fluttering due to the erratic heart rhythms.

Over time, the heart muscle walls deteriorate and could no longer pump strongly. The kidneys respond by holding fluid and sodium. In case the fluid accumulates in the lungs, feet, ankles, lungs or other organs, the body becomes congested resulting to congestive heart failure.

What are the indications?

Many individuals with dilated cardiomyopathy do not have any symptoms or only minor ones. Those who have symptoms might progress once the heart function deteriorates.

The indications can arise at any age and might include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue, inability to exercise or perform daily activities normally
  • Swollen feet and legs
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Weight gain, coughing and congestion linked to fluid retention
  • Palpitations or chest fluttering due to the erratic heart rhythms
  • Fainting
  • Formation of blood clots due to slowed blood flow throughout the body. Once a clot breaks free, it might move to the lungs, kidney, limbs or the brain.

What are the causes?

It is important to note that most cases are idiopathic. Oftentimes, a viral ailment might be the cause or even hereditary.

Other causes include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Heart valve disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Drug abuse or using drugs that are toxic to the heart
  • Women after childbirth

Management of dilated cardiomyopathy

The treatment is aimed on managing the cause of heart failure if possible. Once diagnosed, the main objective is to improve the heart function and reduce the symptoms. Several medications are given to manage the condition. The doctor will also recommend lifestyle changes to reduce the symptoms as well as improving the quality of life.


  • Beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors – given to manage heart failure even if there are no symptoms present
  • Diuretics, digoxin and aldosterone inhibitors – these are added if symptoms arise

Lifestyle changes

  • Diet – if symptoms develop such as fatigue or shortness of breath, limit the intake of salt to 2,000-3,000 mg per day. The low-sodium diet should be followed even if the symptoms have settled.
  • Exercise – the doctor will instruct the individual if he/she may exercise or not. Most individuals with cardiomyopathy are encouraged to engage in non-competitive aerobic exercise.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on dilated cardiomyopathy is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage circulatory issues by taking a standard first aid course with Kelowna First Aid.