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The term 'cardiomegaly' is used to describe an increase in the chamber size and length of the heart. More often than not, this condition is diagnosed incidentally on a chest X-ray and confirmed with the help of certain imaging procedures. An enlarged human heart is not a disease in itself, but is a symptom that must be taken seriously. Though the enlargement of heart could sometimes be a result of a genetic abnormality, it is usually a symptom of cardiovascular diseases. Cardiomegaly could affect both children and adults. Unhealthy dietary habits, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol abuse can make one susceptible to a serious heart ailment that may cause the heart to enlarge. It is extremely essential to identify the underlying heart ailment that may have caused cardiomegaly. Generally doctors look into these factors while working on the enlarged heart prognosis.
Causes
The enlargement of the heart could be a sign of a heart ailment. When our body is under stress owing to the poor lifestyle choices we make, our heart has to work faster. This can make one susceptible to a heart ailment. Some of the common heart conditions that may be responsible for causing this condition are cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease, heart valve dysfunction or an abnormal heart rhythm. Cardiomyopathy refers to the weakening of the heart muscles. Once the muscles weaken, the heart has to work harder. Coronary heart disease is a medical condition that is characterized by plaque buildup in the arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the heart. The accumulation of plaque deposits causes these arteries to get constricted which in turn limits the supply of blood to the heart. Another condition that may be responsible for causing the heart to enlarge is cardiac arrhythmia. Those who suffer from this condition have an irregular heart rhythm. A host of distressing symptoms can surface when the heart is beating at an irregular pace.
Our heart has four chambers and flow of blood within the heart is controlled by valves. Heart valve disorders could also lead to the enlargement of the heart. When poorly oxygenated blood enters the upper right chamber called atrium, tricuspid valve opens with the contraction of right atrium to allow the passage of blood into the lower chamber called right ventricle. Once the right ventricle contracts, pulmonic valve opens to move blood towards the pulmonary artery which in turn takes the blood to the lungs for enriching it with oxygen. Once enriched with oxygen, blood enters the left atrium. Contraction of left atrium causes the mitral valve to open. The oxygen-rich blood is then carried into the right ventricle. The right ventricle contracts thereby causing aortic valve to open. The blood then moves into the main artery called aorta. From here, the oxygen-enriched blood is carried to other parts of the body. If any of these valves get damaged, the heart may not be able to function properly. Valvular stenosis (narrowing of the valve openings) or valvular insufficiency (a medical condition where a valve doesn't shut properly thereby causing backflow of blood) are diseases that may cause cardiomegaly. While one may be born with valvular defects, such defects may develop later in life due to conditions such as rheumatic fever, endocarditis, coronary heart disease, hypertension or cadiomypathy.
Pulmonary hypertension, anemia, hemochromatosis (iron overload) or protein buildup in the heart are some of the other contributory factors for the enlargement of the heart. Those who have had a heart attack are susceptible. Coronary artery disease or high blood pressure can also put one at an increased risk of developing cardiomegaly. This condition might even run in the family. Shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, weakness, swelling, edema, dizziness and abnormal heart rhythm are common indicators of this problem. If one experiences such symptoms, it would be best to seek medical help. Electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, cardiac CT scan, cardiac MRI and stress test are some of the important diagnostic tools that provide valuable diagnostic information that helps in the diagnosis.
Prognosis and Treatment
Serious health problems can arise if cardiomegaly is not detected in the early stages which is why people in the high-risk groups must watch out for the symptoms of this condition. Since serious medical conditions could be responsible for causing abnormal enlargement of the heart, cardiologists try to diagnose the cause and treat it as soon as possible. The prognosis will depend on the underlying condition that is responsible for causing enlargement of the heart. Once the underlying cause has been identified, doctors would recommend a suitable treatment to preserve the heart function. A symptomatic approach is usually followed for the treatment. If high blood pressure or cholesterol levels are playing the culprit, drug therapy coupled with dietary changes would be required to keep them under control.
A timely diagnosis will definitely lower the risk of complications such as formation of blood clot, heart murmurs or life-threatening situations such as cardiac arrest or heart failure. Drug therapy for cardiomegaly usually involves the use of diuretics, digoxin, ACE inhibitors, ARBs or beta blockers. If the diagnostic tests reveal a possibility of a cardiac arrest anytime soon, surgery may be recommended. A heart valve surgery or a coronary bypass surgery might be required to improve blood flow. A pacemaker might be fitted to ensure that the patient's heart rhythm and pumping activity are normal. In severe cases of heart failure, a ventricular assist device may be implanted until a heart transplant is performed. Once the patient has undergone treatment, he/she would also be required to make certain lifestyle changes. One would need to quit smoking and cut down on one's intake of alcohol. Those suffering from hypertension would have to follow a healthy low-salt diet. One must refrain from having fatty food or other food items that may cause plaque buildup in arteries. Though a majority of people who have undergone these treatments have been able to lead a normal life, it is important that they go for regular checkups to monitor the size and condition of the heart muscles.
This was a brief overview on causes, symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis of cardiomegaly. If you ever experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, consult a doctor soon. The earlier this condition is diagnosed and treated, the better would be the patient's chances of recovery. If you have been diagnosed with this medical condition, don't get hassled thinking about the enlarged heart outcome. You can improve your heart's health and lead a normal life if you follow the cardiologist's advice and make the right lifestyle choices.
Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.