Cardiomegaly is an Enlarged Heart

Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

Cardiomegaly is a medical condition that is also known as an enlarged heart. If you have been diagnosed with cardiomegaly, you most likely have questions about how you developed this condition and you are probably concerned about how cardiomegaly will affect your life and whether there is any cure.

What is Cardiomegaly?

Your heart is a muscle that continuously pumps blood with a regular rate and rhythm to send oxygen and nutrient rich blood throughout your body.

An enlarged heart means that your heart has become either larger (dilated) or thicker or both.

An enlarged heart may result in difficulty maintaining optimal heart pumping action, and thus may cause symptoms or consequences for your overall health. 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

Cardiomegaly can be a hereditary problem, or it may develop if you have a condition that affects your heart function. Most of the time, cardiomegaly develops as a result of a medical condition.

An enlarged heart usually results from situations that force the heart to pump harder or that cause damage to the heart muscle.

At times the heart may become enlarged and weak for no apparent reason.

The most common conditions associated with cardiomegaly include the following:

  • Congenital heart condition - a heart problem present at birth
  • Heart attack- which weakens a section of the heart muscle
  • Arrhythmia- an irregular heart rhythm

Symptoms of Cardiomegaly

Sometimes cardiomegaly does not cause any symptoms.The most common symptoms of cardiomegaly include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness, fatigue
  • Edema and leg swelling

Additional symptoms, such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath and fainting may be the signs of a heart attack. If you experience the signs of a heart attack, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis of Cardiomegaly

If you have symptoms of cardiomegaly, your doctor will do a physical examination to determine the cause of your symptoms. Your doctor might order some of the following diagnostic tests to further evaluate your situation.

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

Risk Factors for Cardiomegaly

The chances of developing cardiomegaly increase if you have 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 cause of the cardiomegaly. The most common treatments include the following medications.

Some of these medications reduce the fluid in your body to decrease the strain on your heart, while some of these medications are more geared towards reducing the risk of heart attacks. So, if you have cardiomegaly, you might need a combination of medications.

If treatment with medication is not enough 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

If you have a family history of cardiomegaly, be sure to share this information with a physician. This way you can have an evaluation to determine if you are already developing cardiomegaly, and you can begin to take preventative measures in advance.

Sources:

The role of imaging in the diagnosis and management of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Weissler-Snir A, Crean A, Rakowski H, Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 2016;14(1):51-74

Edited by Heidi Moawad MD

Continue Reading