An enlarged heart, also called cardiomegaly, isn’t a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition that compels the heart to work harder than usual. When your heart is enlarged, it may not pump blood properly, often resulting in heart failure.
You can develop an enlarged heart due to various medical conditions like high blood pressure, weak heart muscles, heart valve problem, coronary artery disease, abnormal rhythm of heart and stress on your body like pregnancy. The condition can improve over time with treatment. But often people with cardiomegaly need treatments and medication throughout their life.
Causes Of An Enlarged Heart
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease causes blockages in the heart’s supply of blood due to which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. The fatty deposits, also called atherosclerosis, makes the artery walls narrow, resulting in reduced oxygen supply which is needed for pumping blood effectively to the heart.
High Blood Pressure
Another cause for enlarged heart is high blood pressure because of which the blood pumps with higher force than usual through the arteries and puts strain on the heart. Obesity and sedentary lifestyle are the main causes of high blood pressure.
Another cause of an enlarged heart includes Myocarditis, which is a viral infection of the heart. A viral illness may lead to enlarged heart symptoms.
Abnormal Heart Valve
Abnormal heart valve is a disease in which the blood flows backward as a result of which the heart muscles contracts with unusual force. This is another common cause behind the development of an enlarged heart.
Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscles, is another cause of an enlarged heart. The cause of this condition is unknown.
During pregnancy, particularly around the time of delivery, a woman can develop cardiomyopathy with symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and swelling of ankles.
Weakened Heart Muscles
A previous heart attack can also cause enlarged heart due to weakened heart muscles that makes extra effort to pump blood. Besides these, genetic or inherited conditions like HIV infection, kidney disease that requires dialysis, thyroid disease, alcohol abuse and old age can cause enlarged heart.
As we age, our arteries gradually lose their elasticity and the blood vessels stiffen and cause high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors that can lead to an enlarged heart.
Symptoms Of An Enlarged Heart
In most cases, an enlarged heart is asymptomatic. Some people may have mild symptoms and some may experience symptoms that worsens with time very fast.
The possible symptoms which vary widely from person to person include shortness of breath, dizziness, leg swelling, irregular heart beat, fatigue, weight gain and fluid retention.
Treatments For An Enlarged Heart
If you experience any of the above symptoms, you must talk to your doctor. He may recommend Echocardiography which successfully measures the hearts size, thickness and pumping function. If any sign of enlarged heart is discovered, your physician may recommend chest X-ray, blood test, cardiac catheterization and other tests to confirm enlarged heart and the possible cause to start the treatment.
The treatment will depend on the underlying cause but when enlarged heart is leading to congestive heart failure; your physician will focus on improving the symptoms and maintaining the function of the heart using medication. He will recommend medications to control high blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. Besides this, he may also suggest change of diet (low fat diet) and cardiovascular exercises to stop the heart from enlarging further. He will also perform frequent medical check-ups to find out if the treatment is working or not.
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