Objectives: This study sought to determine whether early disease is identifiable in asymptomatic relatives of patients with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) by means of noninvasive cardiologic assessment.
Background: DCM is diagnosed on the basis of advanced heart failure, where cardiac dilation and impaired contractility are recognized in the absence of a recognized etiology (World Health Organization criteria). However, initial clinical presentation may be with severe complications: thromboembolism, arrhythmia or sudden death. DCM has recently been recognized to be familial, with autosomal dominant inheritance in many cases. Familial disease is present in 9% to 20% of patients with DCM, and the ability to identify early disease in such people may improve patient management and aid in the understanding of pathogenesis.
Method: We prospectively assessed 408 asymptomatic relatives (mean [+/-SD] age 35 +/- 15 years, 193 men) of 110 consecutive patients with DCM by means of history and physical examination, two-dimensional echocardiography, 12-lead and signal-averaged electrocardiography and metabolic exercise testing. We hypothesized that signs of lesser cardiac dysfunction in such relatives might indicate early disease.
Results: Twenty-nine percent of relatives had abnormal results on the echocardiogram. Twenty percent (n = 45) had left ventricular enlargement (LVE), defined as LV end-diastolic diameter (LVEDD) > or = 112% predicted; 6% (n = 13) had depressed fractional shortening (dFS), defined as FS < or = 25%; and 3% (n = 7) had frank DCM, defined as LV dilation, impaired contractile performance and LVEDD > or = 112% plus FS < or = 25%. Other abnormalities of cardiac function were identified in relatives with LVE or dFS: A greater number with LVE had an abnormal metabolic exercise test result than normal relatives (9% vs. 1%, p < 0.05). Relatives with LVE and abnormal maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) (defined as VO2max < 80% predicted) had a lower absolute VO2max than normal relatives (30 +/- 8 vs. 43 +/- 9 ml/min per kg, p = 0.01). The QRS duration (at the 25-Hz filter) on the signal-averaged electrocardiogram was prolonged in relatives with LVE (103 +/- 13 ms) and dFS (102 +/- 12 ms) compared with that of normal relatives (97 +/- 12 ms, p < 0.05). Over a mean 39-month follow-up period, 12 relatives with LVE (27%) and none with dFS developed symptomatic DCM (p < 0.0001). One relative with LVE died suddenly, and another underwent heart transplantation.
Conclusions: Nearly one-third of asymptomatic relatives (29%) have echocardiographic abnormalities, and 27% of such relatives progress to development of overt DCM. Early identification of such people would permit appropriate intervention that might influence the serious complications and mortality of this disease.