Enlarged heart (cardiomegaly) isn't a disease, but rather a symptom of another condition.
The term "cardiomegaly" most commonly refers to an enlarged heart seen on chest X-ray before other tests are performed to diagnose the specific condition causing your cardiomegaly. You may develop an enlarged heart temporarily because of a stress on your body, such as pregnancy, or because of a medical condition, such as the weakening of the heart muscle, coronary artery disease, heart valve problems or abnormal heart rhythms.
While having an enlarged heart may not always be preventable, it's usually treatable. Treatment for enlarged heart is aimed at correcting the underlying cause. Treatment for an enlarged heart can include medications, medical procedures or surgery.
In some people, an enlarged heart causes no signs or symptoms. Others may have these signs and symptoms:
When to see a doctor
If you think you may have a problem with your heart based on new signs or symptoms you've been having, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Seek emergency medical care if you have any of these signs and symptoms, which may mean you're having a heart attack:
An enlarged heart can be caused by conditions that cause your heart to pump harder than usual or that damage your heart muscle. Sometimes the heart enlarges and becomes weak for unknown reasons (idiopathic).
Conditions associated with an enlarged heart include:
You may have a greater risk of developing an enlarged heart if you have any of the following risk factors:
The risk of complications from an enlarged heart depends on the part of the heart that is enlarged and the underlying cause.
Complications of enlarged heart can include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you may have heart disease, or are worried about your heart disease risk because of a strong family history, make an appointment with your family doctor. If heart disease is found early, your treatment may be easier and more effective. Eventually, however, you may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For heart disease, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
If you have symptoms of a heart problem, your doctor will perform tests to determine if your heart is enlarged and to find out the underlying cause of your condition. In addition to a physical exam, these tests may include:
Treatments and drugs
Treatments for enlarged heart focus on correcting the underlying cause.
Medical procedures and surgeries
Lifestyle and home remedies
While you can't cure your enlarged heart with home remedies, there are some things you can do to improve your condition. Your doctor may recommend adopting the following lifestyle changes:
In most cases you can't prevent your heart from enlarging. Let your doctor know if you have a family history of conditions that can cause an enlarged heart, such as cardiomyopathy. If cardiomyopathy or other heart conditions are diagnosed early, treatments may prevent the disease from worsening.
You can help reduce your chance of developing heart failure by avoiding some of the conditions that can contribute to a weak heart, including the abuse of alcohol or cocaine, or not getting enough vitamins and minerals. Controlling high blood pressure with diet, exercise and possibly medications also prevents many people who have an enlarged heart from developing heart failure later in life.
Controlling risk factors for coronary artery disease — tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — helps to reduce your risk of an enlarged heart and heart failure by reducing your risk of heart attack.
Last Updated: 2011-07-21
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