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Pediatric Dilated Cardiomyopathy Treatment & Management

  • Author: Poothirikovil Venugopalan, MBBS, MD, FRCPCH; Chief Editor: P Syamasundar Rao, MD  more...
Updated: Apr 25, 2014

Approach Considerations

Initial therapy in dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is largely directed at the symptoms of the underlying heart failure. Diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and beta-blockers are used.

Perform general supportive measures in patients with DCM during acute-stage management, including endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation, vasoactive infusions, and fluid/acid-base management. Treat chest infections appropriately. Treat anemia appropriately.

Supplemental oxygen is of benefit only in patients with hypoxia (as with pneumonia or pulmonary edema).

Cardiac transplantation is currently the optimal treatment for DCM-induced resistant chronic heart failure in children. Limiting factors include availability of a suitable donor, complications of rejection, and lifelong immunosuppression. Survival rates of as much as 92% at 5 years[28] and 53% at 15 years have been reported.[29] A variety of other surgical procedures have been studied.


Pharmacologic Therapy

Diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and beta-blockers form the pharmacologic regimen for heart failure in DCM. Diuretics may provide an improvement in symptoms, whereas ACE inhibitors appear to prolong survival.

Beta-blocker therapy in children with chronic heart failure due to DCM has been shown to improve symptoms and left ventricular ejection fraction. Carvedilol is a beta-adrenergic blocker with additional vasodilating action. Carvedilol, in addition to standard therapy for dilated cardiomyopathy in children, is believed to improve cardiac function and symptoms; it is well tolerated, with minimal adverse effects, but close monitoring is necessary because it might worsen congestive heart failure and precipitate asthma. Furthermore, randomized control studies have not yet documented the beneficial effects of carvedilol, although it is not clear whether these studies were large enough to bring out the differences.[30]

Anticoagulants and antiarrhythmic agents, particularly amiodarone, are often used in patients with low myocardial contractility and symptomatic arrhythmias, respectively. Results are encouraging. Presence of intracardiac thrombi, symptomatic or not, is another indication for anticoagulant therapy.[31]

Carnitine supplements (100 mg/kg IV infusion over 30 min, followed by 100 mg/kg/day as continuous infusion for 24-72 hours; 25-50 mg/kg/dose PO bid or tid, not to exceed 200 mg/kg/day) reverse the myocardial dysfunction in most patients affected by systemic carnitine deficiency.

Investigational drug therapy

Coenzyme Q10 has also been used in children with DCM, with variable results.[32]

Decreased serum levels of growth hormone (GH), which acts on cardiac myocytes primarily through insulinlike growth factor (IGF)-1, are associated with impaired myocardial growth and function, which can be improved with the restoration of GH/IGF-1 homeostasis. Based on this hypothesis and on observation of benefits in animal models, GH therapy has been used in children with DCM, but the results have not been conclusive.


Palliative, Bridge, and Experimental Surgery

Palliative surgical measures are associated with significant mortality and morbidity rates despite advances. Resection of a large segment of the hypertrophied ventricular muscle (Batista procedure) and repair or replacement of mitral valve to minimize volume overload of left ventricle have been used as palliative measures. Cardiomyoplasty is the transposition of electrically transformed skeletal muscle to provide systolic and diastolic augmentation to the native heart.

Mitral valve repair and partial left ventriculectomy have been found to be feasible in selected patients and help reduce symptoms in most patients and help[33] reduce left ventricular dimensions in some patients; however, whether it can modify the natural history, especially the need for cardiac transplantation, is unclear.[34]

Implantable mechanical support devices, modified for use in infants and children, have been introduced to support the failing heart until a suitable donor is available for transplantation (bridge to transplant). The Berlin Heart EXOR pediatric has also been successfully used in several centers.[35] Major limitations include infection, thromboembolism, disturbance from noise, and the need to frequently recharge batteries.

Cardiac resynchronization therapy using a biventricular pacemaker has been shown to be effective in adults with DCM. In addition, these devices are available with defibrillator backup for patients at risk for ventricular arrhythmias. They are used in children with DCM with early favorable results.[36]

In adult studies, some patients receiving prolonged support of left ventricular function with these devices have shown restoration of native cardiac function. In a few cases, myocardial recovery has been sufficient to permit successful removal of the left ventricular assist system, even after a year of use. This suggests a possible role for mechanical intervention at an earlier stage in viral myocarditis and DCM. A lesser degree of fibrotic changes in the left ventricle could improve the chances of recovery.

Stem cells, particularly cardiac stem cells, and cardiac progenitor cells may represent promising types of cellular therapy to replace dead myocardial cells, but the technology is presently a research topic rather than a clinical option.[37, 38]


Hospital Admission

Admission is necessitated for patients with DCM who have exacerbations of heart failure; often these are precipitated by chest infection. Admission may also be necessary for reevaluation if first-line medications fail to provide significant relief of symptoms (ie, resistant heart failure). During terminal illness, patients and parents might opt to stay in the hospital.

In addition to taking aggressive steps to treat the precipitating factor (infection, anemia), compliance with therapy has to be evaluated when symptoms persist.

Diminished absorption and waning action of diuretics can be partially overcome by parenteral administration of furosemide or by sequential segmental nephron blockade achieved by combining metolazone, a thiazide diuretic, with furosemide.

Intravenous infusions of beta agonists, such as dopamine and dobutamine, temporarily improve myocardial function and partly reverse the abnormal neuro-endocrine profile of chronic congestive heart failure. However, in the long-term, they increase myocardial irritability, leading to arrhythmia.

Intra-aortic balloon pump support may be successfully and safely used in patients with acute decompensated DCM as an urgent measure of cardiac support to stabilize the patient and maintain organ perfusion until transplantation is possible, until a ventricular assist device is placed, or until the patient recovers sufficiently to be weaned from intra-aortic balloon pump.[39]

Cardiac resynchronization therapy with AV synchronous biventricular pacing has been successful in some children with DCM and left bundle branch block (LBBB). Optimization of resynchronization for children with DCM is still in the early stages.

Automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) reduce sudden death, and their efficacy has been clearly demonstrated in adults with chronic congestive heart failure. However, their use in children has been limited. Studies have reported on the efficacy of ICDs in children with DCM and other cardiomyopathies.[40]

Studies in adults who died of heart failure report significant fatigue, dyspnea, and pain in the days before death. Concluding that a similar pattern would occur in children is logical.



Dietary requirements are high in children with DCM because of their catabolic state, recurrent infections, increased muscle activity, and need for rapid growth. Dietary intake may be inadequate consequent to the anorexia, dietary restrictions, malabsorption, diarrhea, and frequent exacerbations of heart failure.

Ensuring an appropriate and palatable diet is a challenge. Temporary nasogastric tube feedings may be required for sick and severely anorectic children. Infants might need intravenous alimentation for relief from feeding activity.

Powerful diuretics have largely obviated stringent restrictions on salt and fluid intake.



Enforced bed rest is impractical and probably unnecessary. Often, restriction of physical activity is self-enforced.

In patients with chronic illness, regular graded exercise has been shown to improve effort tolerance and quality of life. Activity to the limit of tolerance should be encouraged. Patients should avoid competitive sports.

All feasible support should be provided for peer interaction and participation in normal life activities. Restricted life activities, frequent diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, and an uncertain prognosis make these children prone to psychological problems that may significantly influence prognosis and outcome. Among the described abnormalities are inhibition of emotions, marked anxiety, depressive reaction with loneliness, low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, emotional lability, impulsiveness, and weakness of self-identity.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Poothirikovil Venugopalan, MBBS, MD, FRCPCH Consultant Pediatrician with Cardiology Expertise, Department of Child Health, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals, NHS Trust; Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, UK

Poothirikovil Venugopalan, MBBS, MD, FRCPCH is a member of the following medical societies: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Paediatrician with Cardiology Expertise Special Interest Group, British Congenital Cardiac Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Ameeta Martin, MD Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Pediatric Cardiology, University of Nebraska College of Medicine

Ameeta Martin, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Cardiology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

P Syamasundar Rao, MD Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Emeritus Chief of Pediatric Cardiology, University of Texas Medical School at Houston and Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital

P Syamasundar Rao, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Pediatric Society, American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Chest radiograph of a child with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.
Echocardiogram obtained from apical 4-chamber view revealing a dilated left atrium and left ventricle in a child with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.
This is a color Doppler echocardiogram obtained from apical 4-chamber view revealing a dilated left atrium and left ventricle with the blue jet of mitral regurgitation in a child with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Mild tricuspid regurgitation is also shown.
This is an echocardiogram obtained from parasternal long axis view revealing a dilated left atrium and left ventricle in a child with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.
Table 1. Factors Identified as Causes of Myocardial Damage
Category Of Factors Specific Factors
Viral infections (myocarditis) Coxsackievirus B, human immunodeficiency virus, echovirus, rubella, varicella, mumps, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, measles, polio
Bacterial infections Diphtheria, Mycoplasma, tuberculosis, Lyme disease, septicemia
Rickettsia Psittacosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Parasites Toxoplasma, Toxocara, Cysticercus
Fungi Histoplasma, coccidioidomycoses, Actinomyces
Neuromuscular disorders Duchenne or Becker muscular dystrophies, Friedreich ataxia, Kearns-Sayre syndrome, other muscular dystrophies
Nutritional factors Kwashiorkor, pellagra, thiamine deficiency, selenium deficiency
Collagen vascular diseases Rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, dermatomyositis, Kawasaki disease
Hematological diseases Thalassemia, sickle cell disease, iron deficiency anemia
Coronary artery diseases Anomalous left coronary artery from pulmonary artery, infarction
Drugs Anthracycline, cyclophosphamide, chloroquine, iron overload
Endocrine diseases Hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, hypoparathyroidism, pheochromocytoma, hypoglycemia
Metabolic disorders Glycogen-storage diseases, carnitine deficiency, fatty acid oxidation defects, mucopolysaccharidoses
Malformation syndromes Cri-du-chat (cat-cry) syndrome
Table 2. Summary of Genetic Loci and Disease Genes for Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Clinical Pattern Identified Genetic Loci Identified Disease Genes
Autosomal dominant (AD) 10q21-10q23, 9q13-q22, 1q32, 15q14, 2q31, 1q11-21 Actin, desmin, lamin A/C
AD with conduction defect 1p1-1q1, 3p22-3p25 ...
X-linked (XL) Xp21 Dystrophin
XL cardio-skeletal (Barth syndrome) Xq28 (gene G4.5) Tafazzin
Table 3. Diagnosis of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Children - Step I: Diagnosis
Approach Findings Conclusion
Clinical suspicion Infants and young children: Shortness of breath, feeding difficulties, wheezing, failure to thrive, recurrent chest infections, hepatomegaly, cardiomegaly

Older children: Dyspnea, dependent edema, elevated jugular venous pressure, cardiomegaly

Probable heart disease with heart failure
Chest radiography Cardiomegaly, pulmonary plethora, prominent upper lobe veins, pulmonary edema, pleural effusion, collapsed left lower lobe High probability of heart failure with or without chest infection
Electrocardiography Low-voltage complexes Pericardial effusion
Presence of Q waves and inversion of T waves in leads I, II, aVL, and V4 through V6 (anterolateral infarction pattern) Anomalous left coronary artery from pulmonary artery
Significant arrhythmia Dilated cardiomyopathy secondary to arrhythmia
Left ventricular or biventricular hypertrophy with or without left ventricular strain pattern Often unhelpful
Doppler echocardiographic studies Significant congenital heart disease Diagnose primary disease
Significant pericardial effusion with satisfactory left ventricular ejection fraction Diagnose pericardial effusion
Left ventricular posterior wall hypokinesia with hyperechoic papillary muscles, retrograde continuous flow into proximal pulmonary artery Diagnose anomalous left coronary artery from pulmonary artery
Dilated left ventricle (>95th percentile) with global hypokinesia (fractional shortening < 25%, ejection fraction < 50%), and no demonstrable structural heart disease Diagnose dilated cardiomyopathy
Table 4. Diagnosis of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Children - Step II: Identification of Any Underlying Etiology
Approach Findings Conclusion
Clinical features Positive family history Genetic cause for dilated cardiomyopathy
Acute or chronic encephalopathy, muscle weakness, hypotonia, growth retardation, recurrent vomiting, lethargy Inborn error of metabolism involving energy production
Coarse or dysmorphic features, organomegaly, skeletal abnormalities, short stature, chronic encephalopathy, cherry-red spot in eyes Storage diseases
Skeletal muscle weakness without encephalopathy Neuromuscular disorders
Blood investigations High blood urea nitrogen and creatinine levels, low calcium and magnesium levels, electrolyte disturbances Help in the initial management; occasionally point to a cause of dilated cardiomyopathy, especially in neonates
Elevated acute-phase reactants and cardiac enzyme levels Myocarditis
Positive viral titers Viral myocarditis
Low serum carnitine levels Systemic carnitine deficiency
Hypoglycemia with low or no acidosis (ketosis)

1. High insulin levels, low free fatty acid

2. Low insulin levels, high free fatty acid

1. Infant of diabetic mother, nesidioblastosis

2. Defect in fatty acid oxidation or carnitine metabolism

Hypoglycemia with moderate or high acidosis (ketosis)

1. Low or normal lactate and abnormal urine and serum organic acid levels

1. High lactate

1. Organic (propionic, methylmalonic) acidemias, or ß-ketothiolase deficiency

2. Glycogen storage disease, Bath and Sengers syndromes, pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency, mitochondrial enzyme deficiency

Hyperammonemia with acidosis Organic acidemias (as above)
Specific enzyme assay Confirms enzymatic defect
Absence of above physical and biochemical abnormalities Post myocarditis or idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy
Cardiac catheterization Evaluate hemodynamics Useful to predict prognosis and evaluate for transplant
Coronary angiography Abnormal origin of left coronary artery from pulmonary artery Anomalous left coronary artery from pulmonary artery
Myocardial biopsy Myocyte hypertrophy and fibrosis without lymphocytic infiltrate Dilated cardiomyopathy
Inflammatory cell infiltration, cell necrosis Myocarditis
Special stains Mitochondrial or infiltrative diseases
Molecular studies (on blood, fibroblasts, or myocardial cells) Nucleic acid hybridization studies

Polymerase chain reaction studies

DNA mutation analysis Identifies specific genetic defect
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