What Is an Enlarged Heart?

Enlarged heart, also known as cardiomegaly, is a condition where the heart increases in size. The heart becomes enlarged when it’s overworked and thickens, or when one or more of the four chambers widen.

Enlargement of the right ventricle and the right atrium may occur in patients with sleep apnea or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The enlargement of the left ventricle usually occurs in patients with hypertension or coronary heart disease.

Is Having an Enlarged Heart Serious?

The enlargement of the heart is not a disease itself, but instead a symptom of a heart defect which makes the heart work harder, such as heart valve problems or high blood pressure. Sometimes, there may be an enlargement but the function of the widened chamber of the heart is not affected. It’s important to find out the underlying cause of why your heart is getting bigger.

Can an Enlarged Heart Go Back to Normal?

Enlarged heart due to excessive alcohol intake can go back to normal upon the cessation of alcohol use. Enlarged heart in athletes is usually due to the heart adapting to the lifestyle of the athletes. In this case, the function of the heart is not affected. During pregnancy, there is an increase in plasma volume which can be the cause of an enlarged heart. The weakening of the heart muscle in pregnancy should be monitored because it might lead to permanent damage. In these cases, the enlarged heart can go back to its normal size. In other cases, the reversing of the enlarged heart to its normal size depends on the underlying condition.

Enlarged Heart Symptoms

The symptoms of an enlarged heart sometimes don’t show unless the condition worsens. However, if it does have symptoms, it may be as follows:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmia
  • Edema
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

The following symptoms indicate a need for emergency medical care:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Pain in the arms, back, neck or jaw
  • Fainting

What Causes an Enlarged Heart?

The heart is a muscular organ, and just like muscles, it can get bigger when overworked. It can be from a condition you were born with or it can be from a problem that develops over time. The common health conditions that cause an enlarged heart are as follows:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Heart infections
  • Heart valve disease
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Hypertension
  • Kidney disease
  • Pregnancy (peripartum cardiomyopathy or PPCM)
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Thyroid disorders

The congenital conditions that may cause an enlarged heart are as follows:

  • Atrial septal defect
  • Ventricular septal defect
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Patent ductus arteriosus
  • Ebstein’s anomaly
  • Tetralogy of Fallot

Enlarged Heart Risk Factors

Risk factors for an enlarged heart include the following:

  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Parent or sibling with an enlarged heart
  • Heavy or excessive drug or alcohol use

Enlarged Heart Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor will do a physical exam and assess your signs and symptoms, medical history, family history and physical exam results. Some additional tests might be done to diagnose enlarged heart:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Exercise stress test
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

The treatment of enlarged heart depends on the underlying condition. It also depends on how enlarged your heart is at the moment of diagnosis. Medications, surgery or lifestyle changes are the options your doctor might consider in treating your enlarged heart. Your doctor will discuss the best treatment option for you and your circumstances.

Medications that may be prescribed for treating an enlarged heart are as follows:

  • Diuretics
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Beta-blockers
  • Antiarrhythmics
  • Other blood pressure medications

Surgeries and other procedures that may be prescribed if medications don’t help are as:

  • Heart valve surgery
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Heart transplant surgery
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
  • Left ventricular assist device

Lifestyle changes can help lower the risk of developing other diseases while managing your enlarged heart:

  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise frequently
  • Lose weight
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Relax

Don’t delay care if you suspect a heart condition. Safe care is here for you.

Heart & Stroke
American Heart Association
Medical News Today
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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