An enlarged heart, also known as cardiomegaly, is not considered a disease but an indication of another underlying condition. This can occur because of stress on the body, pregnancy or could be the result of a medical condition such as a coronary artery disease. Sometimes among children, the enlarged heart could be the result of valve problems when they don’t open properly or leak resulting in the enlargement. One of the other causes of an enlarged heart could also be associated with its muscle and its ability to contract and squeeze effectively. This is usually one of the causes of an enlarged heart among adults and is known as cardiomyopathy or heart muscle disease. So, based on the condition, the enlarged heart can either be temporary or permanent. However, the abnormality can affect the normal function of the heart where the blood may not pump effectively resulting in congestive heart failure. Therefore, various imaging tests such as a chest X-ray may be required and accordingly, treatment will be initiated by correcting the cause. Most of the affected individuals often need life-long treatment with medications and require to be monitored for complications.
Recent studies suggest that enlarged heart is associated with a higher risk of sudden cardiac death. So, it is important to make an appointment with the doctor if any new symptoms related to the heart occur, as early detection makes the treatment easier. In the case of a family history of heart disease or blood pressure is evident; the individual is at greater risk of developing an enlarged heart.
Some of the Potential Causes of Enlarged Heart
Cardiomyopathy: This is a disease of the heart muscle which makes the heart appear enlarged and in rare cases, the muscle tissue of the heart may become replaced with scar tissue. As the condition progresses to deteriorate, the heart becomes weaker, unable to function effectively and maintain a normal electrical rhythm creating problems such as heart failure and arrhythmias. There are various types of cardiomyopathy; hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the excessive thickening of the heart muscle, dilated cardiomyopathy means the heart becomes dilated or enlarged, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy is a condition where the muscle cells of the heart progressively become replaced by fatty tissue and restrictive cardiomyopathy causes the walls of the heart muscle to become stiff. The treatment for cardiomyopathy is based on relieving the symptoms and to reduce the risk of developing complications such as arrhythmias and the blood clots forming.
Irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia): This is the abnormal heart rhythm which can occur when the electrical signals responsible for controlling the heartbeat are disrupted. There are various types of arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. Arrhythmias can either cause the heart to beat very fast which is known as tachycardia and when it beats too slow, it is called fibrillation. This irregular heartbeat can affect the normal function and pumping of the blood around the body. Some forms of arrhythmias could be ‘short lived’ and are considered normal not requiring any treatment. Other forms of arrhythmias could cause palpitation making an individual feel uncomfortable, could cause dizziness or loss of consciousness as the result of the reduced output of blood. Arrhythmias could be more persistent and could ultimately be life-threatening and therefore are managed with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) which monitors the heart’s rhythm.
Heart attack: This occurs with a sudden blockage of the artery supplying blood to a part of the heart muscle. Most of the heart attacks develop because of coronary heart disease. If an individual experiences heart attack, it is important to know the symptoms and to seek medical attention immediately. The most common symptoms of heart attack are pain or discomfort in the chest that develops suddenly, pain that could spread to the left or the right arm and may spread to the neck, jaw or the back, feeling sick, light-headedness and shortness of breath. The treatment for heart attack focuses on restoring blood flow to the heart muscle and to prevent further damage. Primary angioplasty unblocks the coronary artery by inserting stents and thrombolysis involves medications to dissolves the blood clot blocking the artery.
Pericardial effusion: This is characterized by the accumulation of fluid around the heart (pericardium). Normally, the space between the layers contains a small quantity of fluid but the excess fluid can accumulate as the result of an injury or a disease. In some cases, the accumulation of fluid can occur without presenting any symptoms. But, when symptoms do develop, it could include shortness of breath, chest fullness and discomfort when breathing. Although the pericardium can stretch in order to accommodate the fluid buildup, it could put pressure on the heart thus affecting its normal function and can even lead to heart failure or death. The treatment of pericardial effusion is based on the underlying cause and a procedure to drain the fluids may be recommended.
What are the Risks of developing Complications?
The risk of developing complications from an enlarged heart is based on the cause of the condition and the location of the problem in the heart. Some of the complications of an enlarged heart could include;
- Heart failure: The enlarged left ventricle often increases the risk of developing heart failure meaning the muscles of the heart weaken and the ventricles dilate so the pumping of the blood cannot be established effectively.
- Heart murmur: Individuals with an enlarged heart could also have problems with two of the values known as mitral and tricuspid value which may not close effectively resulting in the backflow of blood thus creating heart murmurs.
- Blood clots: Enlarged heart further increases the risk of developing blood clots in the lining of the heart which can block blood flow to other organs resulting in a heart attack or a stroke. If the blood clot travels to the lungs, a life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism can occur.