What is cardiomegaly and why does it occur?

The term cardiomegaly means enlargement of the heart. An enlarged heart is often a finding on a chest X-ray that was done for another reason.

An enlarged heart is not a disease as such. It usually occurs as a result of some pathology that does not always produce symptoms.

The enlargement process can take a few months, as in pregnancy, or take years, as in hypertension. Once a cardiomegaly has been detected it is necessary to carry out studies to find the origin. Here we explain the causes and their effects on health.

What are the symptoms of cardiomegaly?

Cardiomegaly, generally speaking, does not produce symptoms. When it does produce them, they are unspecific. For this reason, it is essential to begin the search for the cause.

As mentioned before, it sometimes shows up as a finding in an imaging study requested for another reason. An example is when the doctor orders a chest X-ray to look at the lungs and an enlarged heart appears.

When cardiomegaly produces symptoms it is because the cause of the enlargement is very advanced. In people who have symptoms they are the following:

  • Shortness of breath with or without effort.
  • Abnormal rhythm or arrhythmia.
  • Palpitations
  • Leg swelling.
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Nausea or lack of appetite.

Another characteristic of these symptoms is that people usually feel fine at rest. Making efforts is when discomfort occurs.

The detection of cardiomegaly is often done unintentionally, through a chest radiograph.

What are the causes of cardiomegaly?

The causes that produce an enlargement of the heart are very diverse. The organ may increase in size due to thickening of the muscle or become dilates; This results in an increase in size, but with decreased strength.

The following are the most common causes:

  • High blood pressure: the heart has to beat faster, which causes the heart to enlarge due to thickening of the muscle.
  • Coronary artery obstruction: when a heart attack has already occurred, part of the heart stops working. The rest of the muscle has to pump harder to meet the needs.
  • Heart valve disorders: There are four valves in the heart that direct the flow of blood in the right direction. When any of these fail, the heart has to go the extra mile. This produces a thickening of the walls.
  • Cardiomyopathy: this is a degenerative disease of the heart muscle.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: in this pathology the pressure in the artery that connects the heart with the lungs is elevated. This puts a greater strain on the myocardium.
  • Anemia: When there is a low level of iron in the blood, the heart must pump more to carry enough oxygen throughout the body.
  • Abnormal rhythm or arrhythmia: this occurs when there is an increase in the heartbeat, a reduction or when they are irregular.

Also read: What is ischemic heart disease?

Are there risk factors for cardiomegaly?

People who may be at higher risk for cardiomegaly include those with the following history:

  • High blood pressure or arterial hypertension.
  • Congenital alterations or acquired from the heart valves.
  • Family history of cardiomegaly.

How is it diagnosed?

Remember that an enlarged heart does not always cause symptoms. To determine if there is cardiomegaly and find its origin, some of the following tests should be performed:

  • Chest X-ray: cWith this technique you can see the state of the lungs and the size of the heart. If it appears dilated on an x-ray, other tests will be needed.
  • Electrocardiogram: it can be determined if the heart muscle is thickened. Arrhythmias, causing cardiomegaly, are also detected. Old infarcts appear as areas with little electrical activity.
  • Echocardiogram: This test is best suited for diagnosing and monitoring an enlarged heart. It is similar to an ultrasound study.
  • Cardiac CT or MRI scan: These techniques can determine if the heart is enlarged. As with the chest X-ray, they do not always provide information on the causes.

What is the treatment for cardiomegaly?

Treatment for cardiomegaly is to correct the cause. Among the approaches to attend the origin, the most frequent include the following:

  • Control blood pressure high.
  • Improve the pumping function of the heart.
  • Correct arrhythmias or heart rhythm disturbances.
  • Reduce the risk of blood clots.
  • Repair valve function cardiac.

The electrocardiogram is capable of recording an enlarged heart and informing whether the cause has been an arrhythmia, for example.

Possible complications of cardiomegaly

The development of complications and the time for them to appear depends on the origin of the cardiomegaly. If a timely diagnosis is not made, the following may appear:

  • Heart failure: This is when the heart does not pump correctly.
  • Arrhythmias: difficult to handle.
  • Formation of thrombi or blood clots: by increasing the size of the heart chambers.
  • Msudden death: in severe cases.

It may interest you: Can heart disease be prevented?

Can it be prevented?

There are many ways in which the development of cardiomegaly can be prevented. If you already have a diagnosis, it is advisable to apply the following lifestyle changes:

  • Give up smoking.
  • Maintain the ideal weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Control diabetes and blood pressure if present.
  • Perform moderate physical activity with professional advice.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol and caffeine.
  • Have good sleep habits.

The most important point is to treat the alteration that produced the cardiomegaly. With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, it is possible to lead a normal life. Great results can be obtained if care is timely.