Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Clinical Heart and Vascular Center

Appointment New Patient Appointment or 214-645-8000

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s heart specialists expertly diagnose and treat people with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a condition that can lead to heart failure. 

Integrating skill and experience with the most advanced science-based tools and techniques, our cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons evaluate and treat people who have this serious illness. 

Specialized Care for a Common Heart Condition

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a common condition in which the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is weakened or enlarged, reducing the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. The reduced cardiac muscle function can result in congestive heart failure

Although it can affect anyone, including children, dilated cardiomyopathy occurs most commonly in men. 

UT Southwestern’s experienced heart doctors expertly diagnose and treat dilated cardiomyopathy. Our cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons offer the most advanced treatments and technologies, with a personalized plan of care for each patient’s unique condition.

UT Southwestern is also home to a dedicated Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. Cardiac rehabilitation is a critical component of recovery and can prevent future heart disease. 

Causes of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Causes of dilated cardiomyopathy include: 

  • Exposure to mercury, lead, or hormones secreted by the adrenal glands (catecholamines) such as adrenalin, noradrenalin, and dopamine
  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Overactivity of the thyroid gland (thyrotoxicosis)
  • Prolonged alcohol use
  • Prolonged rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Use of doxorubicin, a drug used to treat some cancers

Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

The symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy are similar to those of heart failure. Although symptoms usually appear gradually, they can come on quickly. 

Common symptoms in adults include:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Enlarged abdominal girth caused by increased fluid in the abdomen
  • Bulging or enlarged neck veins
  • Shortness of breath on exertion
  • Shortness of breath when lying flat
  • Swelling in the legs caused by fluid buildup
  • Waking up at night with shortness of breath 

Children commonly experience these symptoms:

  • Difficulty feeding
  • Pale skin
  • Poor growth
  • Weak pulse in the arms and legs    

Diagnosing Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is often diagnosed during examination for the cause of heart failure. Common diagnostic tests include:

  • Cardiac catheterization: To exclude ischemic heart disease
  • Chest X-ray: To look for heart enlargement greater than 50 percent of the size of the chest wall
  • Echocardiography (echo or cardiac ultrasound): To evaluate the heart chambers’ ability to contract
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): To look for enlargement (hypertrophy) of the left ventricle
  • Gated blood pool scanning: To evaluate the ejection fraction (amount of blood being pumped) of the heart chambers
  • Physical exam: To check for fluid buildup; includes listening via stethoscope for abnormal heart and lung sounds and trying to detect heart or liver enlargement

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Treatments

Treatments for dilated cardiomyopathy typically focus on treating the heart failure that it leads to. They can include:

  • Removal of the offending agent (doxorubicin, toxin, or others)
  • Supportive therapies:
    • ACE inhibitors: Drugs that improve heart functions
    • Beta blockers: Drugs that lower blood pressure
    • Cardiac glycosides: Drugs that stimulate the heart
    • Diuretics: Drugs that reduce excess fluid retention
    • Vasodilators: Drugs that open the blood vessels and improve blood flow
    • Salt restriction in diet: To reduce fluid retention
  • Salt restriction in diet: To reduce fluid retention
  • Heart transplantation: If all other standard treatments have been unsuccessful and the patient continues to experience severe symptoms

Support Services

UT Southwestern’s cardiac rehabilitation specialists create customized plans that integrate proper nutrition, exercise, and, if necessary, nicotine cessation into patients’ lifestyles to improve their cardiovascular health.

Clinical Trials

As one of the nation’s top academic medical centers, UT Southwestern offers a number of clinical trials aimed at improving the outcomes of patients with cardiovascular disease. 

Clinical trials often give patients access to leading-edge treatments that are not yet widely available. Eligible patients who choose to participate in one of UT Southwestern’s clinical trials might receive treatments years before they are available to the public.