Dilated cardiomyopathy is a serious condition in which the heart muscle becomes weakened and loses strength to pump blood throughout the body. In an attempt to make up for the loss of blood supply, greater amounts of blood fill the hearts lower chambers. The ventricles expand and, in time, the heart muscle stretches out of shape, or dilates, and becomes even weaker. Most individuals with cardiomyopathy eventually develop heart failure, a condition in which the ventricles are not able to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs for oxygen and nutrients.
In many instances, the cause of dilated cardiomyopathy is unknown. This is medically referred to as primary cardiomyopathy. In some cases the patient inherits the tendency to develop dilated cardiomyopathy from their parents.
In secondary cardiomyopathy, there are several factors that have been attributed to damage of the heart muscle. Doctors have discovered that myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, can trigger cardiomyopathy, especially in patients infected with HIV. Excessive alcohol consumption, use of illicit drugs (i.e. cocaine,) and some medications such as chemotherapy have also been shown to make contributions to this disease. In very rare instances, pregnant women will develop this illness during their last trimester or during the first six months after giving birth. The cause of this effect is also unknown.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is as difficult to diagnose, as it is to find its source. This is because there are no initial symptoms, and often times when a patient is having symptoms, they are misdiagnosed. The initial symptoms are weakness and fatigue. These may persist for months before progressing toward more serious warning signs. Gradually, the patient may discover that s/he experiences shortness of breath or wheezing when completing normal tasks, followed by a dry, hacking cough, fluid build-up in the legs and feet, dizziness, fainting, rapid weight gain, increased urination at...
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