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Enlarged Heart - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

What is an Enlarged Heart?

An enlarged heart—generally referred to as cardiomegaly—is a symptom of another underlying condition, such as heart disease, a heart valve problem, a previous heart attack, or even stress from infections or pregnancy.

What Causes an Enlarged Heart?

The heart muscles can become thicker, or one chamber may dilate—enlarging the heart—in response to certain conditions that either damage the heart muscle or make the heart pump harder than it should. These conditions may be temporary, or they may be chronic, ranging from congenital defects to damage from a heart attack.

An enlarged heart can also result from conditions like:

  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary artery disease (blocked arteries in the heart)
  • Heart valve disease
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Hemochromatosis (excessive iron)
  • Pericardial effusion (fluid around the heart)

Sometimes the cause of an enlarged heart is indeterminable. This is referred to as idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.

High Risk Factors for an Enlarged Heart

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent and heavy alcohol and drug use
  • Family or personal history of heart attacks or an enlarged heart
  • Obesity
  • History of metabolic disorders

What are the Symptoms of an Enlarged Heart?

Some people with an enlarged heart may never know they have one unless it is identified during a physical exam.

Common Symptoms of an Enlarged Heart are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling (edema), especially in the legs
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) or palpitations
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, such as the stomach, neck, jaw, back, or one or both arms
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain, specifically around the midsection

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your doctor can order several tests to determine if your heart is enlarged, including a chest x-ray, electro- or echocardiogram, stress test, or CT scan. These tests evaluate how efficiently your heart is pumping blood, identify any damage to your heart, and find out if any of the arteries are blocked or chambers enlarged.

What are the Complications of an Enlarged Heart?

The complications of an enlarged heart depend on the underlying condition that is causing the problem and the part of the heart that is affected or enlarged. The heart can continue to function normally up to a certain point, but as the condition causing the heart to dilate and enlarge continues to progress, the heart's performance will begin to decline.

Potential Complications from an Enlarged Heart Include:

  • Blood clots. An enlarged heart can put you at greater risk of developing a blood clot in the lining of the heart. Clots that break loose and enter the bloodstream can block blood flow to organs like your heart and result in a heart attack or stroke, or travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism.
  • Heart murmur. An enlarged heart dilates two of the heart’s four valves—the tricuspid and mitral valves—and prevents them from closing properly. The sound created by the backflow of blood that results is called a heart murmur and should be monitored closely.
  • Heart failure. The heart’s inability to pump efficiently can lead to congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart muscles continue to stretch and weaken until the heart can no longer function on its own.
  • Cardiac arrest and sudden death. An enlarged heart can disrupt the normal rhythm of your heartbeat. Abnormal heartbeats, such as those that are too fast or too slow, can lead to cardiac arrest or death.

Diagnosing an Enlarged Heart

The best tool for diagnosing an enlarged heart is an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. This risk-free test assesses your heart’s size, function, and thickness. Similarly, a chest X-ray can also reveal an enlarged heart.

Your doctor can also assess your risk through a physical exam. Typically, enlarged hearts are detectable through stethoscope tests. In some cases, blood tests are useful in testing for thyroid diseases or viral infections.

How is an Enlarged Heart Treated?

An enlarged heart is treated by treating the condition causing it. Treatment options may include medications, medical procedures, changes in lifestyle, or a combination of all three. Your doctor may prescribe medications to lower your blood pressure, improve your heart’s function, regulate your heartbeat, or reduce your risk of blood clots.

If medication alone is not enough, you may need a medical or surgical procedure, such as heart valve surgery to repair or replace the damaged valve or coronary bypass surgery. You may also benefit from a medical device like a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), an implantable mechanical pump that helps your heart to pump; or a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), which monitors and regulates your heartbeat. Extreme cases may require a full heart transplant.

Can an Enlarged Heart be Prevented?

An enlarged heart is typically the result of another health condition. In some cases, an enlarged heart can be prevented by reducing your risk of developing an underlying condition that will impact your heart, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, stopping tobacco use, and limiting alcohol consumption are all ways to prevent your risk of developing a heart condition and, subsequently, an enlarged heart. If you already have a pre-existing condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, managing it appropriately and improving your lifestyle choices can help to keep your heart functioning regularly.

Talk to physicians at CardioVascular Health Clinic

The team of physicians at CardioVascular Health Clinic specializes in the treatment of cardiovascular conditions like enlarged heart, remaining at the forefront of innovative technology and techniques to deliver the highest quality of care. With eight state-of-the-art facilities across Oklahoma, CardioVascular Health Clinic helps ensure you receive the accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan you deserve to live your life to the fullest. Don’t wait another day to take charge of your health; call CardioVascular Health Clinic today at (405) 701-9880 or contact us to schedule your appointment.

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Professional staff working in a beautiful facility with great doctors who sincerely care about their patients. Without Dr. Schmidt's skill, I would have needed heart bypass surgery instead of a stent. Follow-up has been thorough. I can't recommend them highly enough.
LeAnn Harner

Dr. Jim Melton and all the staff are fantastic. He is an excellent surgeon and his team is GREAT!!!! I just had surgery at the surgery center, I have only great things to say about my experience. Without him I really don't think I would be here to write this. If you’re looking for a good cardiovascular team, they are a 5 star for sure.

Susie Brooks Harrison

Dr. Parsons and staff are amazing. He truly listened to me from the consult. Staff showed genuine care for my progress post procedure. I had my follow up appointment today so satisfied with results. Blake made me comfortable from the start. He is an activist for uterine fibroids treatment beyond the standard.

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Thank you Dr Schrader.

Kathy J

I came to Dr. Warren by a self referral for mals when it took me 8yrs 50+ doctors and thousands of dollars spent on no answers. My first visit I was scared I was just going to be gaslighted just like the past however I was pleasantly shocked when Dr. Warren immediately believed me. She took the time to review many disk I had brought from past tests. She never once dismissed me and listened to ever word I had to say. She scheduled one last test to confirm the diagnosis then I was scheduled for surgery right away. Surgery was a success and I can’t thank her and her staff enough. Dr. Warren truly saved my life.

Angie W

Dr. Garner literally saved my life 18 months ago and I've followed him to his new practice with Cardiovascular Health. He explains things so clearly, listens and is just a very nice person. His staff is great, too! I highly recommend!

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