Enlarged heart: Everything you need to know

Editor’s note: This post was written by Dr. Valika, a Cardiologist on staff at Sherman Hospital.

The diagnosis of an “enlarged heart” can have several meanings, but most commonly refers to a condition where the heart is unable to appropriately pump blood to the rest of the body. This condition is medically referred to as a “Cardiomyopathy”, or intrinsic dysfunction of heart muscle tissue. The disease process is commonly described clinically as “heart failure”, and it affects over 5 million people in the U.S. and over 23 million worldwide. According to the Framingham Heart Study, by the age of 40, the lifetime risk of developing heart failure in the U.S. is 1 in 5–quite surprisingly high.

Several possible factors cause heart failure, but the most common is underlying Coronary Artery Disease, or plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle itself. When blockages occur within these arteries, less blood supply is delivered to the heart muscle, and therefore, the muscle pump function becomes impaired.

Am I likely to have heart failure?

The risk factors for developing an enlarged heart include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, family history, and even obesity. Other risk factors include heavy alcohol abuse and recreational drug abuse (particularly cocaine). Your cardiologist can check for coronary artery disease by performing a stress test or angiogram. If these tests are normal, then the enlarged heart could be caused by viruses, alcohol, or drug toxicity, and other metabolic disorders.

Symptoms of an enlarged heart:

  • The most common symptom is the gradual onset of fatigue and shortness of breath, particularly with exertion or activity.
  • Patients may also develop shortness of breath while lying flat, sleeping at night, and may often awake with sudden spells of labored breathing.
  • They may also often notice increased swelling in their legs, a sign of decreased blood flow throughout the body due to diminished pumping function of the heart muscle.
  • There are some people who, despite having this condition, have no symptoms whatsoever, but still need to be monitored closely.

How is heart failure managed?

Many people believe that all patients will die from this disease. However, with the advancement in medical treatment today, people can do extremely well with aggressive management and close follow up. Your cardiologist can recommend certain medications that can help improve your symptoms, quality of life, and survival. Sometimes a pacemaker or defibrillator must be placed to prevent abnormal fast heart rates. Appropriate counseling in nutrition and dietary restrictions is extremely important. A stable exercise regimen can also be very successful for patients who have stable heart failure symptoms, as long as they have been cleared by their cardiologist. The diversity of treatment options, in general, vary according to the severity of the symptoms present as well as the type of heart dysfunction that exists.

Sherman Hospital has a Heart Failure Center specifically to help patients who’ve been diagnosed manage the disease. The Center will monitor the health of participants, help manage the symptoms of heart failure, and collaborate with support services to improve the quality of life for participants. Download the Heart Failure Center brochure now.

This post is published by Sherman Health to provide general health information. It is not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.

About Sherman Health

Sherman Health has provided medical care to Northern IL since 1888, and is currently home to a network of over 600 physicians. The Sherman blogs are edited by me, Luke. Questions? Comments? Links? Email address is luke at shermanhealth dot com.
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