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What is an Enlarged Heart?

By J.L. Drede
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An enlarged heart is a heart that has increased in size. Often called an cardiomegaly, it is not a disease or disorder, but a symptom of another, usually serious, medial condition. An enlarged heart can be a temporary condition that disappears on its own, or a chronic problem that requires medial attention.

Many times there are no symptoms to an enlarged heart. When there are symptoms through they can be severe. An abnormal heart rhythm, also called arrhythmia, is a common side effect to cardiomegaly. Other symptoms may be an increased difficulty in breathing, a shortness of breath and bouts of dizziness. Excessive coughing can also be a symptom. More severe symptoms include severe chest pain, and feeling faint or fainting. These can also be signs of a heart attack, which can occur because of an enlarged heart.

A heart usually becomes enlarged because there is added stress put upon it. Sometimes this can be a temporary condition caused by an injury, but other times it is because of something more serious. High blood pressure, heart valve disease, thyroid disorders, congenital heart defects and anemia are all common causes of an enlarged heart. Another cause is cardiomypathy, or a weakness of the heart muscle. As the muscle weakens more, it may enlarge as an attempt to compensate. Sometimes excessive elements in the body can lead to heart problems. Hemochromatosis, a build up of iron in the body, is another common cause for an enlarged heart. The same is true for amyloidosis, a build up of protein in the heart itself.

Doctors can not determine if someone has an enlarged heart with a basic examination, meaning additional tests must be performed in order to find out. Most often they will perform an x-ray of the chest. In addition to discovering if the heart is enlarged, a chest x-ray can bring to light other conditions that may have lead to the enlargement in the first place. Usually after an x-ray additional tests will be made.

Patients are usually given an electrocardiogram to monitor the electrical activity of the heart as well as an echocardiogram to produce and analyze a visual image of the heart. Computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans, more commonly referred to as CT and MRI scans, are sometimes also used to determine the nature of a patient's heart condition. Blood tests are also taken.

Once diagnosed, correcting an enlarged heart is done by treating the underlying condition that caused it in the first place. Medication to restore heart strength, lower blood pressure, or keep thyroid levels in check may be prescribed, depending on the diagnosis. Sometimes surgery is also necessary. Pacemakers and replacement heart valves can sometimes correct medical conditions associated with enlarged hearts.

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