An enlarged heart (cardiomegaly) is not a disease, but a sign of another condition.
The term “cardiomegaly” refers to an enlargement of the heart seen on any imaging test, including a chest x-ray. other tests are then needed to diagnose the condition that is causing the enlarged heart.
Heart damage and certain types of heart disease can cause an enlarged heart. sometimes short-term stress on the body, such as pregnancy, can cause the heart to enlarge. Depending on the condition, an enlarged heart may be temporary or permanent.
Treatment for an enlarged heart may include medications, medical procedures, or surgery.
In some people, an enlarged heart (cardiomegaly) causes no signs or symptoms. others may have these signs and symptoms of cardiomegaly:
- difficulty breathing, especially when lying down
- waking up breathless
- irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
- swelling (edema) in the belly or legs
- chest pain
- discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- severe shortness of breath
- Heart condition present at birth (congenital heart defect). Problems with the structure and function of the heart can cause the heart muscle to grow and weaken.
- Damage from a heart attack. Scarring and other structural damage to the heart can make it harder for the heart to pump enough blood to the body. the stress can lead to inflammation of the heart and eventually heart failure.
- Diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy). Cardiomyopathy often causes the heart to become stiff or thick. can make it harder for the heart to pump blood.
- buildup of fluid in the sac that surrounds the heart (pericardial effusion). a buildup of fluid in the sac that contains the heart can cause an enlargement of the heart that can be seen on an x-ray. chest.
- heart valve disease. Four valves in the heart keep blood flowing in the right direction. Disease or damage to any of the valves can interrupt blood flow and cause the heart’s chambers to enlarge.
- high blood pressure (hypertension). If you have high blood pressure, your heart may have to pump harder to get blood to the rest of your body. the strain can cause the heart muscle to grow and weaken.
- high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs (pulmonary hypertension). the heart has to work harder to move blood between the lungs and the heart. the strain can cause thickening or enlargement of the right side of the heart.
- low red blood cell count (anemia). In anemia, there is a lack of healthy red blood cells to carry adequate levels of oxygen to the body’s tissues. the heart must pump more blood to make up for the lack of oxygen in the blood.
- thyroid disorders. Both an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) and an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can lead to heart problems, including an enlarged heart.
- too much iron in the body (hemochromatosis). iron can accumulate in various organs, including the heart. this can cause the lower left chamber of the heart to become inflamed.
- unusual protein deposits in the heart (cardiac amyloidosis). This rare disease causes a protein called amyloid to build up in the blood and get stuck in the body’s organs, including the heart. amyloid protein deposits in the heart cause irreversible thickening of the heart wall. the heart has to work harder to fill with blood.
- aerobic exercise. In some athletes, the heart enlarges in response to frequent and prolonged exercise. This type of heart enlargement is usually not considered a disease and does not need treatment.
- Fat around the heart. Some people have extra fat around the heart that may show up on a chest x-ray. Unless there are other associated heart conditions, no treatment is necessary.
- A family history of heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy). Some types of cardiomyopathy run in families. tell your healthcare provider if a parent or sibling has a history of a thickened, stiff, or enlarged heart.
- high blood pressure. this means having a blood pressure greater than 140/90 millimeters of mercury.
- heart disease. Any problem that affects the heart, including congenital heart defects or heart valve disease, can lead to an enlarged heart. It’s important to live a healthy lifestyle and have regular medical checkups to control heart disease.
- heart failure. Heart failure can occur if the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle) becomes enlarged. In heart failure, the heart can’t pump the right amount of blood around the body.
- blood clots. Blood clots can form in the lining of the heart. a blood clot that forms on the right side of the heart can travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism). if a clot blocks blood flow, you could have a heart attack or stroke.
- Leaky heart valve (regurgitation). An enlarged heart can prevent the mitral and tricuspid heart valves from closing, causing blood to leak backward. the interrupted blood flow creates a sound called a heart murmur. Although not necessarily harmful, heart murmurs should be monitored by a health care provider.
- cardiac arrest and sudden death. an enlarged heart can cause the heart to beat too fast or too slow. irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) can lead to fainting, cardiac arrest, or sudden death.
- monitor and manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Take prescribed medications as directed.
- eat a nutritious and balanced diet.
- exercise regularly.
- avoid or limit alcohol consumption.
- don’t smoke.
- don’t use illegal drugs.
when to see a doctor
An enlarged heart may be easier to treat when caught early. talk to your health care provider if you have concerns about your heart.
Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have signs and symptoms of a possible heart attack:
An enlarged heart (cardiomegaly) can be caused by damage to the heart muscle or any condition that causes the heart to pump harder than normal, including pregnancy. sometimes the heart becomes enlarged and weakened for unknown reasons. this condition is called idiopathic cardiomyopathy.
Conditions associated with an enlarged heart include:
Things that can increase the risk of an enlarged heart (cardiomegaly) include:
The risk of complications from an enlarged heart depends on the part of the heart affected and the cause. Complications of an enlarged heart may include:
Tell your healthcare provider if anyone in your family has or has had cardiomyopathy or other health conditions that have caused an enlarged heart. When diagnosed early, proper treatment of the underlying condition can prevent an enlarged heart from getting worse.
Following a heart-healthy lifestyle can help prevent or manage some conditions that can lead to an enlarged heart. Follow these steps to help prevent an enlarged heart: