Dilated Cardiomyopathy


Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively. Symptoms vary from none to feeling tired, leg swelling, and shortness of breath. It may also result in chest pain or fainting. Complications can include heart failure, heart valve disease, or an irregular heartbeat.

Causes include genetics, alcohol, cocaine, certain toxins, complications of pregnancy, and certain infections. Coronary artery disease and high blood pressure may play a role, but are not the primary cause. In many cases the cause remains unclear. It is a type of cardiomyopathy, a group of diseases that primarily affects the heart muscle. The diagnosis may be supported by an electrocardiogram, chest X-ray, or echocardiogram.

In those with heart failure, treatment may include medications in the ACE inhibitor, beta blocker, and diuretic families. A low salt diet may also be helpful. In those with certain types of irregular heartbeat, blood thinners or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator may be recommended. If other measures are not effective a heart transplant may be an option in some.

About 1 per 2,500 people are affected. It occurs more frequently in men than women. Onset is most often in middle age. Five-year survival rate is about 50%. It can also occur in children and is the most common type of cardiomyopathy in this age group.

Signs and symptoms
Main article: Heart failure ยง Signs and symptoms
Dilated cardiomyopathy develops insidiously, and may not initially cause symptoms significant enough to impact on quality of life. Nevertheless, many people experience significant symptoms. These might include:

Shortness of breath
Syncope (fainting)
Angina, but only in the presence of ischemic heart disease
A person suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy may have an enlarged heart, with pulmonary edema and an elevated jugular venous pressure and a low pulse pressure. Signs of mitral and tricuspid regurgitation may be present.

Although in many cases no cause is apparent, dilated cardiomyopathy is probably the result of damage to the myocardium produced by a variety of toxic, metabolic, or infectious agents. It may be due to fibrous change of the myocardium from a previous myocardial infarction. Or, it may be the late sequelae of acute viral myocarditis, such as with Coxsackie B virus and other enteroviruses possibly mediated through an immunologic mechanism.

Other causes include:

Chagas disease, due to Trypanosoma cruzi. This is the most common infectious cause of dilated cardiomyopathy in Latin America
Pregnancy. Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs late in gestation or several weeks to months postpartum as a peripartum cardiomyopathy. It is reversible in half of cases.
Alcohol abuse (alcoholic cardiomyopathy)
Nonalcoholic toxic insults include administration of certain chemotherapeutic agents, in particular doxorubicin (Adriamycin), and cobalt.
Thyroid disease
Inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis and connective tissue diseases
Tachycardia-induced cardiomyopathy
Muscular dystrophy
Tuberculosis – 1 to 2% of TB cases.
Autoimmune mechanisms
Thiamine deficiency
Recent studies have shown that those subjects with an extremely high occurrence (several thousands a day) of premature ventricular contractions (extrasystole) can develop dilated cardiomyopathy. In these cases, if the extrasystole are reduced or removed (for example, via ablation therapy) the cardiomyopathy usually regresses.

Generalized enlargement of the heart is seen upon normal chest X-ray. Pleural effusion may also be noticed, which is due to pulmonary venous hypertension.

The electrocardiogram often shows sinus tachycardia or atrial fibrillation, ventricular arrhythmias, left atrial enlargement, and sometimes intraventricular conduction defects and low voltage. When left bundle-branch block (LBBB) is accompanied by right axis deviation (RAD), the rare combination is considered to be highly suggestive of dilated or congestive cardiomyopathy. Echocardiogram shows left ventricular dilatation with normal or thinned walls and reduced ejection fraction. Cardiac catheterization and coronary angiography are often performed to exclude ischemic heart disease.

Genetic testing can be important, since one study has shown that gene mutations in the TTN gene (which codes for a protein called titin) are responsible for “approximately 25% of familial cases of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy and 18% of sporadic cases.” The results of the genetic testing can help the doctors and patients understand the underlying cause of the dilated cardiomyopathy. Genetic test results can also help guide decisions on whether a patient’s relatives should undergo genetic testing (to see if they have the same genetic mutation) and cardiac testing to screen for early findings of dilated cardiomyopathy.

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (cardiac MRI) may also provide helpful diagnostic information in patients with dilated cardiomyopathy.

Medical therapy
Drug therapy can slow down progression and in some cases even improve the heart condition. Standard therapy may include salt restriction, ACE inhibitors, diuretics, and beta blockers. Anticoagulants may also be used for antithrombotic therapy. There is some evidence for the benefits of coenzyme Q10 in treating heart failure.

Electrical treatment
Artificial pacemakers may be used in patients with intraventricular conduction delay, and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators in those at risk of arrhythmia. These forms of treatment have been shown to prevent sudden cardiac death, improve symptoms, and reduce hospitalization in patients with systolic heart failure.

Surgical treatment
In patients with advanced disease who are refractory to medical therapy, heart transplantation may be considered. For these people 1-year survival approaches 90% and over 50% survive greater than 20 years.

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