An enlarged heart isn’t a disease in itself. Rather, it usually signals a different, underlying problem with the heart.
Coronary artery disease, viral infections, alcohol and drug abuse and heart valve problems are also possible causes of an enlarged heart. People who have preexisting heart conditions are more likely to develop an enlarged heart.
“A lot of times what happens is that blockages develop in the arteries, which restricts blood flow to the heart. As a result, the heart muscle weakens, heart function decreases and the heart enlarges,” said Dr. Nestor Mercado, a Marshfield Clinic Health System cardiologist.
Ultrasounds are typically used to detect the presence of an enlarged heart.
Enlarged hearts and lack of care
Overall having an enlarged heart is not very common, Mercado said.
“We have the technology to identify these issues quickly and treat them effectively,” he said. “Often the people we see with enlarged hearts are those who have not had medical care for an extended period of time. This is why awareness is so important. We can help keep people healthy before these issues become more serious if they are aware and seek care when symptoms arise.”
Know the signs
Symptoms of an enlarged heart include:
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme fatigue
“In addition, patients can go into congestive heart failure with an enlarged heart,” Mercado said. “If the heart is enlarged, the pumping chamber of the heart is already compromised.”
Treatment depends on cause
“It’s critical to determine the underlying cause of the enlarged heart so we can treat it appropriately,” Mercado said. “If it’s coronary artery disease, then we can treat those patients very successfully through open-heart bypass surgery or coronary-artery stenting.”
If a patient has an enlarged heart due to elevated blood pressure, the patient can be successfully treated with medications and lifestyle modifications.
Rarely, women will suffer from an enlarged heart shortly after delivering a child. This can lead to the woman experiencing congestive heart failure, which can be identified early and treated.
The best way to protect your heart is proactively. A healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking or quitting smoking, are all things that help protect your heart health.
“If you already have diabetes, work really hard to keep it under control. The same goes for high blood pressure or high cholesterol. These are elements we have some control over, so it’s very important to make sure they are in a healthy range. Certain factors we can’t control like age or family history,” Mercado said.
Mercado suggests the DASH diet as a good way to stay heart healthy. He also said that even patients with heart conditions can and should exercise.
“I generally don’t put restrictions on exercise. I tell my patients to do whatever feels comfortable for them and their body,” he said.
If you have questions about your heart health, talk with your care team.