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What is Left Ventricular Atrophy?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Left ventricular atrophy (LAT) is a reduction in size of the left ventricle of the heart, the chamber of the heart responsible for pumping freshly oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. People with this condition can experience a number of health complications, and there are treatments available to arrest or reverse the atrophy. A cardiologist usually needs to supervise care for a patient with left ventricular atrophy, including regular followups to see how well a patient responds to treatment.

The heart is a muscle, and like other muscles, it can experience atrophy due to factors like disease or lack of use. Patients with certain chronic illnesses can be at risk of LAT, as can people on bed rest. Less active patients don't use their hearts as much, and the muscle can start to grow weak. Spinal cord injuries and paralysis are associated with left ventricular atrophy, as is spaceflight.

The decrease in the ventricle's size forces the remaining muscle to work harder. It may be less efficient, and patients can start to notice circulatory symptoms like bluing of the fingers and toes because they are not getting enough oxygen. The drop in oxygenated blood can also damage organs like the brain, which rely on a steady supply of oxygen for cellular functions. Patients might experience fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty engaging in physical activities because of their weakened hearts.

It is also common to see cardiac arrhythmias with left ventricular atrophy. A doctor can read an electrocardiogram to determine the nature and source of the arrhythmia. Medical imaging to visualize the heart can also be useful, and may provide important information about how much of the muscle has wasted away due to disease or lack of use. If available, a doctor will look at older scans and measures of heart function to identify signs of changes, using those scans as a baseline for the patient's heart health.

Treatment for left ventricular atrophy usually involves cardiac exercise to get the heart working and rebuild muscle. This may require working with a physical therapist to devise a safe and comfortable exercise regimen for the patient. For people with significant mobility impairments, it is important to balance the patient's safety with the need to exercise the heart. Astronauts usually need to follow strict physical fitness guidelines both on the ground and while on missions to protect their bodies from atrophy and other complications of a weightless environment.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

By irontoenail — On Dec 05, 2011

@Mor - I guess the goal would be to make the heart as strong as possible before leaving and then work even harder while in space just to make sure it doesn't get too thin.

There are so many different problems that can affect people in space though, this is only the tip of the iceburg.

I've heard that when people returned from the moon, they basically had to leave the spacecraft in wheelchairs, just because they had become so weak from being in flight.

That might be more to do with fluid distributions and things, but I imagine heart problems wouldn't help that at all.

By Mor — On Dec 04, 2011

That's fascinating that this can occur in people who have undertaken spaceflight. I assume it's people who are up there long enough for the heart to react to the different conditions.

I've heard that lack of gravity is just so easy on the muscles that almost none of them get any kind of work out at all, unless special equipment is used. We just don't realize what an effort it is simply fighting against gravity every day. And it would be the same for the heart. With nothing to pull the blood down, it would flow much easier than usual.

I suppose exercise is the only thing that could counteract that. And I've heard the heart will actually get slightly thicker if you exercise regularly, just like any other muscle will.

The interesting thing is the only muscle which gets stronger in space are the stomach muscles, just because they are needed so much for balance, and for bending down.

By lluviaporos — On Dec 03, 2011

They thought my mother had a left ventricular atrophy for a while. She had gone into the doctor just to get a prescription and happened to mention she was having occasional palpitations.

The doctors whisked her into the hospital and started doing a barrage of tests, because it turned out that her heart wasn't responding whenever she did exercise. It would just keep beating at the same rate.

She was quite unfit, so the doctors thought maybe she had somehow atrophied her heart, but now they think it might have been damage from a virus or something like that.

At any rate, she's going to have to have a pacemaker put in. While she's not looking forward to the surgery, she's been feeling very tired for a while now and she's hoping that after it, she will feel better.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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