Enlarged Heart (Cardiomegaly)

Overview

What's an enlarged heart?

An enlarged heart (cardiomegaly) refers to a heart that is bigger than typical. The heart may be unusually thick or dilated (stretched). An enlarged heart may be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.

How does an enlarged heart affect my body?

An enlarged heart has trouble pumping blood efficiently. For this reason, having an enlarged heart increases your risk for heart complications, such as heart failure or stroke.

Who might get an enlarged heart?

You have a higher risk of developing cardiomegaly if you have:

Symptoms and Causes

What causes an enlarged heart?

Any disease that makes your heart work harder can enlarge it. Just like your arm muscles get bigger when you work them out, your heart gets bigger when it has to work harder.

Common causes of an enlarged heart include:

What are the symptoms of an enlarged heart?

In some people, an enlarged heart does not cause any symptoms. Other people with an enlarged heart might experience:

Diagnosis and Tests

How's an enlarged heart diagnosed?

A diagnosis starts with discussing your symptoms and family health history. Your healthcare provider may order tests to assess the cardiomegaly and rule out other conditions. Some common tests include:

  • Chest X-ray to record images of the chest and heart.
  • CT scan, using X-rays to create a video of your heart and blood flow.
  • Echocardiogram to evaluate and create an image of your heartbeat and blood flow.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) to study your heart’s electrical activity. Exercise stress test, raising your heart rate with medicine or exercise to learn how your heart responds.
  • MRI, using magnets and radio waves to create detailed pictures of your heart.

Management and Treatment

How's an enlarged heart treated?

Enlarged heart treatment focuses on managing the condition that is causing cardiomegaly. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to treat any underlying heart conditions.

Common heart medications include:

  • Anti-arrhythmics to keep your heart beating in a normal rhythm.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors to lower your blood pressure.
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) to lower your blood pressure.
  • Anticoagulants to reduce your risk of blood clots.
  • Beta blockers to control blood pressure and improve heart function.
  • Diuretics (salt pills or water pills) to lower the sodium and water in your body.

Enlarged heart treatment may include procedures/surgery to:

Prevention

How can I prevent an enlarged heart?

If you have a family history of cardiomegaly, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to manage your risks. You may also make some lifestyle changes:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Quit smoking and avoid illicit drugs.
  • Sleep eight hours each night.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.

Outlook / Prognosis

What's the outlook for people with an enlarged heart?

Many people effectively manage the symptoms of an enlarged heart. The earlier you receive care, the better your chances for a positive outcome. Early cardiomegaly treatment can stop the condition from worsening.

Does cardiomegaly return after enlarged heart treatment?

Some people have an enlarged heart because of temporary factors, such as pregnancy or an infection. In these cases, your heart will return to its usual size after treatment.

If your enlarged heart is due to a chronic (ongoing) condition, it usually will not go away. You need to continue medication or other treatments to manage symptoms.

Does an enlarged heart increase my risk of other heart conditions?

The health risks of an enlarged heart depend on the cause. They also depend on which part of your heart is enlarged.

Potential health complications from an enlarged heart can include:

Living With

When should I go to the ER?

Most of the time, an enlarged heart is not an emergency. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • Chest pain.
  • Pain or tingling in your arms, back, neck or jaw.
  • Syncope (passing out).
  • Trouble catching your breath, even at rest.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An enlarged heart is a heart that is bigger than usual. Some people may have an enlarged heart because of a temporary condition, such as pregnancy. Or underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure or cardiomyopathy, may lead to an enlarged heart. You can prevent cardiomegaly by living a healthy lifestyle and managing risk factors. Though an enlarged heart may not go away, most people are able to manage the condition well with the right treatment.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/09/2021.

References

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