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Cardiomegaly (Enlarged Heart): Symptoms & Causes

Cardiomegaly commonly refers to when the heart becomes larger than normal. It is usually a sign of underlying issues or damage to the heart. The heart can enlarge in response to several serious conditions like uncontrolled high blood pressure, a heart attack or valve disease, so it's essential to consult a doctor if you find that you have cardiomegaly.

What is cardiomegaly?

Cardiomegaly means that your heart has grown larger than it should, usually in response to an underlying condition. When the heart gets bigger, it can become less efficient at pumping blood and has to work harder. Cardiomegaly can affect the whole heart or be limited to certain parts of the heart.

Enlarged heart symptoms

Sometimes, there are no symptoms associated with cardiomegaly. In cases without symptoms, a doctor may discover an enlarged heart while looking at images (such as a chest X-ray) that they've taken for other reasons. However, if you experience symptoms related to an enlarged heart, these may include:

  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Swelling in the legs and torso
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue (chronic tiredness)

What causes an enlarged heart?

Lots of conditions can cause cardiomegaly. The most common causes of an enlarged heart are high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, but any condition that makes your heart work harder than normal can cause cardiomegaly. It can also be the result of a congenital condition (something you're born with). Other possible causes include:

Yes. Your heart can become enlarged due to drug use, especially cocaine and alcohol.

Yes. High blood pressure can cause cardiomegaly, especially in the heart's lower left chamber, called the left ventricle. This chamber typically thickens and enlarges in a manner that may not be immediately noticeable through basic imaging but is often detected on an EKG tracing.

Not exactly. There's no direct link between an enlarged heart and stress. However, stress can cause high blood pressure or other cardiac issues, which may contribute to an enlarged heart.

In many cases, cardiomegaly can be managed without severe consequences by identifying and treating the underlying cause. People with cardiomegaly can often lead normal lives while managing the condition. However, it is a sign of other serious conditions. It's important to address the cause of an enlarged heart to avoid potentially life-threatening complications.

Treatment for cardiomegaly

Treatments for an enlarged heart mostly focus on treating or resolving the underlying condition that caused the heart to enlarge.

Other FAQs about cardiomegaly

It depends on the underlying condition, the severity of your cardiomegaly, your age, and other factors. Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible can improve your long-term life expectancy.

Coronary artery disease and high blood pressure are the most common causes of an enlarged heart.

After you seek appropriate medical treatment for the condition underlying your cardiomegaly, the best thing to do for an enlarged heart is to improve lifestyle factors that pose a risk. Stop smoking, avoid drugs and alcohol, eat a healthy diet, manage your blood pressure, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and control other conditions (like diabetes and obseity) that put you at risk.

Cardiomegaly means your heart has grown abnormally large due to damage or other diseases that make it work too hard. It isn't the same as heart failure, but it may lead to heart failure if left untreated. Cardiomegaly is a common finding in most cases of clinical heart failure.

Indirectly, yes. Untreated cardiomegaly can lead to other life-threatening problems, such as irregular heartbeat, heart pumping failure, or rarely a stroke. When it results in such a condition, cardiomegaly can cause sudden death or progressive heart failure.

A cure for cardiomegaly depends on the condition that's causing it. In certain situations, such as cardiomegaly due to pregnancy, an enlarged heart can go back to normal on its own after the pregnancy ends, without requiring specific treatment. In other cases, getting appropriate medical care for the underlying condition may resolve your cardiomegaly. However, for many individuals, ongoing treatment or monitoring may be necessary, depending on the condition causing the cardiomegaly.