Enlarged heart

Enlarged heart

What is an enlarged heart?

An enlarged heart, also known as cardiomegaly, is an increase in the size of the heart, usually caused by another medical condition. It is detected by a chest X-ray, physical examination or other imaging tests.

What causes an enlarged heart?

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)
    One medical condition that can accompany an enlarged heart is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is primarily an inherited condition in which the heart muscle becomes thick. When this happens, it becomes more difficult for the heart to pump blood. Although HCM can occur at any age, it is more common and severe in younger people and is the most common cause of sudden heart-related death in people under 30 years of age.
  • Left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH)
    Another medical condition that can lead to an enlarged heart is left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). LVH is a thickening of the left ventricle muscle (the main pumping chamber of the heart). LVH occurs due to the left ventricle becoming overworked. Factors that can cause this to happen are:
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Aortic stenosis
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)
  • Intense, prolonged athletic training

What are the symptoms of HCM and LVH?

People with HCM and LVH may not exhibit any symptoms until the condition becomes more severe. The symptoms of both HCM and LVH include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations (rapid, fluttering, or pounding heartbeats)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Rapid exhaustion with physical activity

How are HCM and LVH diagnosed?

If a patient exhibits symptoms of HCM or LVH, the doctor may order a heart-related test, including:

Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG)
Chest X-rayMagnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

How are HCM and LVH treated?

Treatment for HCM and LVH depend on the underlying cause of the condition and the level of severity as determined by your doctor. The goal of treatment will be to control symptoms and prevent further complications. Treatment for LVH would include medication to reduce blood pressure or surgery in more severe cases. Treatment for HCM includes medication to make the heart pump more efficiently, and surgery, including the insertion of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), in high risk patients. Other methods are also used to correct and control obstructive heart tissue and irregular heart rhythms.

Lifestyle and prevention

You can lower your risk of LVH by knowing and controlling your blood pressure, leading a healthy lifestyle that includes being physically active, and eating a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fat.

HCM is an inherited disease and cannot be prevented. This makes it important to identify this condition as early as possible to limit and prevent further complications.