8 Things to Know About an Enlarged Heart

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Diana Rodriguez on December 17, 2020
  • Stethoscope Heart Shape
    Enlarged Heart: A Symptom of Another Heart Problem
    An enlarged heart is not a disease in itself. Still, it's often a serious problem. A heart that gets larger than normal size is usually the result of a disease or health problem. Sometimes the enlargement only lasts a little while and the heart returns to its normal size. This can happen during pregnancy. But, it also can stem from a serious health condition. Then you may need treatment for it. The medical term for an enlarged heart is cardiomegaly. Whether you or a loved one has an enlarged heart, learning more about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment will help you know what to expect. 
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    1. An enlarged heart is often a warning sign.
    An enlarged heart can signal a serious heart problem or other health problem. It often means your heart has to work harder than normal to pump blood. One type of heart disease that can cause an enlarged heart is cardiomyopathy. This is a disease of the heart muscle. The walls of the heart may grow thick and rigid. High blood pressure and a buildup of fluid around your heart are other possible causes. Issues with your thyroid, red blood cell counts and iron levels can also lead to an enlarged heart. 
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    2. Heart failure can cause an enlarged heart.
    Heart failure means your heart can't pump as much blood as your body needs. This is another form of heart disease that can cause an enlarged heart. One of the first ways your heart tries to cope with this problem is by getting bigger to pump blood with more force. Over time, though, your heart actually gets weaker. It also holds onto more blood. This can cause fluid to fill your lungs. The heart may also beat in an abnormal pattern.
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    3. Other heart issues may be to blame.
    Many problems involving different parts of your heart and its arteries can make your heart work harder. This increases your risk of an enlarged heart. Coronary artery disease is one of these heart problems. It develops when fat and plaque clog the arteries—the coronary arteries—that supply blood to your heart muscle. Being born with a heart or valve disease can also increase your risk of an enlarged heart. So does having a family member with an enlarged heart. Having a heart attack is another risk factor for an enlarged heart.
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    4. Don't ignore shortness of breath.
    An enlarged heart doesn't always cause symptoms. Still, there are a few warning signs you should not ignore. One of these is shortness of breath. Other symptoms include an irregular heartbeat and swelling in your body. Just like with most health issues, managing an enlarged heart is easier if you diagnose and treat it early. So, don't wait to call your doctor if you have any warning signs.
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    5. Testing will look for answers.
    Your doctor can use various tests to diagnose an enlarged heart and find what's causing it. A chest X-ray is often one of the first tests. You also may have tests that measure your heart's electrical activity to see how well that's working. An EKG (electrocardiogram, or ECG) is this type of test. An exercise stress test checks your heart function while you're exercising. Imaging tests, such as ultrasound (echocardiogram), MRI and CT scans, provide pictures of your heart to help doctors diagnose the cause of your enlarged heart.
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    6. Medications may help your symptoms.
    You may need medication to ease the strain on your heart. This might include drugs to lower blood pressure, regulate heart rate, help your heart pump blood and get rid of extra fluids in your body. You may need medication to prevent blood clots, which may form because of your enlarged heart. Some people benefit from medication to reduce inflammation in their body.
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    7. Surgery may be necessary.
    Sometimes surgery is the right treatment for an enlarged heart. Your surgeon might repair or replace a heart valve. Or, surgery can restore blood flow that's blocked by clogged arteries. Implanting a pacemaker can regulate your heartbeat. Implanting an artificial heart pump may be an option if your heart is too weak to do this work by itself. For some people, a heart transplant may be necessary.
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    8. Lifestyle changes may help.
    Lifestyle changes can improve your heart health. First of all, talk with your doctor about the safest way for you to exercise. Also, follow a heart-healthy diet—one that's rich in whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables and fruits. Eat less sugar and salt. Ask about limits on caffeine and alcohol, as well as fluids in general. Try to keep stress under control, don't smoke, lose weight if you're overweight, and get plenty of sleep each night. Remember that your cardiologist is your partner in health—ask for help setting goals and for reaching them. 
8 Things to Know About an Enlarged Heart

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Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.