What is Cardiomegaly?

EKG detects arrhythmia
Photo © A.D.A.M.


Cardiomegaly is a medical condition that is also known as an enlarged heart. It is not a disease but an indication that another medical condition exists in the body. The heart may temporarily become enlarged due to stress on the body, the result of a pregnancy or because of a medical condition, such as coronary artery disease, arrhythmia or heart valve disease. Depending on the condition causing the cardiomegaly, treatment may include the use of medication, medical procedures or surgery to correct the cause of the condition.

Causes of Cardiomegaly

An enlarged heart is usually caused by conditions that force the heart to pump harder or cause damage to the heart muscle. At times the heart may become enlarged and weak for no apparent reason.

Conditions associated with cardiomegaly include the following:

Symptoms of Cardiomegaly

Some patients may not have any symptoms of cardiomegaly whereas others may have the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Edema

Additional symptoms, such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath and fainting may be signs of a heart attack and immediate medical care should be sought.

Diagnosis of Cardiomegaly

If symptoms of cardiomegaly exist, after a physical examination by a physician, the following diagnostic tests may be conducted:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test
  • Cardiac CT scan
  • MRI
  • Complete blood count
  • Cardiac catheterization and biopsy

Risk Factors for Cardiomegaly

The risks of developing cardiomegaly increase if a patient has any of the following risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of the condition
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart attack

Treatment for Cardiomegaly

The treatment of cardiomegaly focuses on correcting the underlying cause of the condition. This may include the following:

If treatment with medication is not able to correct the condition, medical procedures or surgery may be required. Some of these procedures include:

  • Insertion of a pacemaker
  • Heart valve surgery
  • Coronary bypass surgery
  • Left ventricular assist device
  • Heart transplant

Prevention of Cardiomegaly

Knowing the risk factors and making lifestyle changes are the best ways to reduce the risk of developing cardiomegaly. Changes in lifestyle may include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting sodium intake
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet
  • Managing stress
  • Reducing or limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Controlling diabetes
  • Eliminating cocaine and illegal drug use

Keeping abreast of family medical history and sharing this information with a physician in order to prevent the condition from worsening.

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