Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Care Instructions

Skip Navigation
Cross section of a normal heart and a heart with enlarged chambers

Your Care Instructions

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition that weakens your heart muscle and causes it to stretch, or dilate. When your heart muscle is weak, it can't pump out blood as well as it should. More blood stays in your heart after each heartbeat. As more blood fills and stays in the heart, the heart muscle stretches even more and gets even weaker.

Many things can cause dilated cardiomyopathy. It can be caused by another disease or condition. Some people have a family history of dilated cardiomyopathy. For some people, the cause is not known.

You may not have any symptoms at first. Or you may have symptoms, such as feeling very tired or weak. If your heart gets weaker, you may develop heart failure. Heart failure means that your heart muscle doesn't pump as much blood as your body needs. If this happens, you will feel other symptoms such as shortness of breath or trouble breathing when you lie down.

The goal of treatment is to slow the disease and help you feel better. You may also have treatment for the cause of the cardiomyopathy. You will probably take a few medicines. If your doctor thinks it will help your heart and prevent problems, you may get a device such as a pacemaker. Self-care is another important part of your treatment. It includes the things you can do every day to feel better and stay as healthy as possible.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?


  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You may be taking some of the following medicines:
    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). These make it easier for blood to flow.
    • Diuretics. These help remove excess fluid from the body.
    • Beta-blockers. These slow the heart rate and can help the heart fill with blood more completely.

Heart-healthy lifestyle

  • Be active. Exercise regularly, but don't exercise too hard. If you aren't already active, your doctor may want you to start exercising. But don't start until you have talked with your doctor to make an exercise program that is safe for you.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make a heart condition worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
  • If your doctor recommends it, limit sodium. This helps keep fluid from building up in your body. It may help you feel better.
  • Manage other health problems. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19, the flu, and pneumonia.

Weight monitoring

  • Weigh yourself without clothing at the same time each day. Record your weight. Call your doctor if you have a sudden weight gain, such as more than 2 to 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.) A sudden weight gain may mean that your condition is getting worse.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of sudden heart failure. These may include:
    • Severe trouble breathing.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    • Coughing up pink, foamy mucus.
    • Passing out.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or changed symptoms of heart failure, such as:
    • New or increased shortness of breath.
    • New or worse swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
    • Sudden weight gain, such as more than 2 to 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.)
    • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded or like you may faint.
    • Feeling so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities.
    • Not sleeping well. Shortness of breath wakes you at night. You need extra pillows to prop yourself up to breathe easier.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter B164 in the search box to learn more about "Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Care Instructions".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.