Cardiovascular Group and Northside Hospital are pleased to announce the signing of a Practice Services Agreement, signifying a major leap forward in cardiovascular patient care and clinical leadership in the Atlanta region.
An enlarged heart, also referred to as cardiomegaly, occurs because of damage to the heart muscle which causes the heart to pump blood less effectively. Depending on the condition that causes the enlarged heart, it can be either temporary or permanent.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is the main type of enlarged heart. With this condition, the walls of both sides of the heart, known as the ventricles, become thin and stretched.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs when the left ventricle becomes very thick. This can be an inherited quality or be due to high blood pressure. An enlarged heart is able to retain more pumping ability when it is thick rather than thin.
You have an increased risk of cardiomegaly if you have a family history of enlarged hearts or cardiomyopathy. You are also more susceptible if you have high blood pressure or congenital heart disease, which is a birth defect that affects the structure of your heart.
Heart valve disease may also increase your risk. If the valves become damaged, this affects the flow of blood to the heart and the heart may enlarge to compensate.
Cardiomegaly is typically caused by conditions that force your heart to pump harder or that damage your heart muscle. Since many conditions affect the blood flow to the heart, the heart may enlarge in order to receive more blood. However, sometimes the heart may enlarge and become weaker for unknown reasons which is called idiopathic cardiomegaly.
Medical conditions that can cause an enlarged heart include high blood pressure, heart valve disease, cardiomyopathy, pulmonary hypertension, and coronary artery disease. Other conditions include fluid around your heart, known as pericardial effusion, anemia, thyroid disorders, and hemochromatosis, which is excessive iron in the body.
There are multiple ways to test for an enlarged heart, with the most common one being an echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound of your heart that measures its size, muscle thickness, and pumping function. A chest X-ray will show the size of your heart as well to determine if it is enlarged. Cardiac catheterization is another test that can check the heart’s size and pumping function, as well as blockages in the coronary arteries.
Blood tests may also be done to check for conditions that can lead to an enlarged heart, such as thyroid disease, HIV, or other viral infections. An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a test that studies your heart’s electrical activity, which can determine if you have an enlarged heart. This may be done along with an exercise stress test, which raises your heart rate to see how your heart will respond.
Other methods include CT scans and MRIs. A CT scan uses X-rays to create a video of your heart and blood flow, while an MRI uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed pictures of your heart.
Treatment for an enlarged heart focuses on managing the condition that causes it. This can include medication such as anti-arrhythmics, ACE inhibitors, anticoagulants, beta blockers, and diuretics. An enlarged heart may also require procedures such as implanting a pacemaker or an ICD. Surgery may also be a treatment option, including operations to repair or replace a damaged heart valve, a coronary artery bypass or stent placement, or in extreme cases, a heart transplant.
In some people, an enlarged heart may cause no symptoms. However, if the heart becomes unable to pump enough blood, it may result in symptoms of congestive heart failure, such as shortness of breath, leg swelling, weight gain, and fatigue. Other symptoms that may occur with an enlarged heart are arrhythmias and dizziness.
If you experience chest pain, fainting, or discomfort in areas of the upper body such as the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach, call 911 immediately as you may be having a heart attack due to an enlarged heart. It’s important to contact your doctor as soon as you experience any symptoms, as it’s easier to treat an enlarged heart when it’s detected early.
Complications that stem from an enlarged heart depend on the cause of the condition along with the part that is enlarged. Complications include:
Heart failure: An enlarged left ventricle is one of the most serious forms of an enlarged heart, as this increases the risk of heart failure. Heart failure causes your heart muscle to weaken and the ventricles to stretch enough that the heart can’t pump blood efficiently.
Blood clots: Cardiomegaly may make you more likely to form blood clots in the lining of your heart. If these clots enter your bloodstream, they can block blood flow to vital organs, which may result in a heart attack or stroke. Clots that develop in the right chamber of your heart may enter your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.
Heart murmur: With an enlarged heart, two of the heart’s valves (the mitral and tricuspid valves) may not close properly, which leads to an abnormal blood flow. This flow creates sounds referred to as heart murmurs. Heart murmurs can be harmless, but they should be checked by your doctor in case they are a sign of more serious issues.
Cardiac arrest or death: An enlarged heart can lead to disruptions in your heart’s rhythm, causing irregular heartbeats known as arrhythmias. If the heart beats too slow or too fast, this can result in fainting, cardiac arrest, or even death.
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Invasive therapies may also be used to treat an abnormal heart rhythm, such as electrical cardioversion which sends electrical impulses through your chest wall and allows normal heart rhythm to restart, or catheter ablation which disconnects the pathway of the abnormal rhythm. If your doctor determines that electrical devices are the best course of action, you may be given a permanent pacemaker, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), or biventricular (B-V) pacemakers and defibrillators.
CVG offers multiple services that can discover an enlarged heart or conditions that will lead to it. At CVG, we perform stress tests that will observe blood flow and test for various forms of heart disease. There are three types of stress tests that we perform:
A treadmill test is a test in which you will walk on a treadmill that gets faster and steeper every 3 minutes. This will stress your heart so that our nurse or doctor can determine your heart rate and blood pressure.
An echo test is performed before and after your treadmill test to determine how well your heart pumps blood.
A nuclear stress test is a treadmill test that is prefaced by an injection of medicine that shows the flow of blood to your heart.
We also offer cardiac catheterization to diagnose and treat several heart issues. If any of these tests determine a problem, we offer treatment solutions such as atrial fibrillation testing and catheter ablation. Learn more about our services here, or schedule an appointment to talk to our doctors.