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Experts do not regard heart enlargement as a disorder or a disease in itself, but a symptom of other conditions. And these conditions may be cardiac or non-cardiac in nature. Another name for this symptom is cardiomegaly, and although it is not always preventable, it is treatable. Complications that can be caused by the heart getting larger than its normal size may include heart failure, formation of blood clots, and heart murmur. Cardiac arrest is one severe complication that can be caused by this problem, which if left unattended can even cause death.

Diagnosis of An Enlarged Heart

There are no as such symptoms, with the help of which a person can self-diagnose the problem. As I said, this problem is a symptom in itself of some other conditions. However, it is the accompanying symptoms that may make people get themselves medically examined by a doctor. And at the doctor's, when the patient usually undergoes several tests, he may be diagnosed with the problem of enlarged heart, along with other heart issues. Symptoms which are known to accompany heart enlargement may include:
  • Difficult in breathing such as shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • The heart rate may be abnormally slow or fast
  • Edema may occur (edema is defined as the accumulation of fluids in the tissues)
  • Cough
  • Pain in the chest area
So as you can see, all these general signs and symptoms may signal a variety of heart problems, some of which may cause the heart to enlarge in size. The medical tests that may confirm or detect a heart enlargement have been discussed in points in the following:
  • One method that can detect heart enlargement, uses electrodes to measure the electrical activity of the heart. In this way, the doctors can record the heart impulses, and with this, many heart problems can be diagnosed. This process is known as electrocardiogram.
  • X-ray of the chest. After studying the symptoms, the doctor might call for an X-ray test for the patient. If heart enlargement has occurred, then it can be easily detected by this method. However, additional tests may also be done to detect the underlying cause of the problem.
  • Another important diagnostic tool for cardiomegaly, is a method that uses standard ultrasound techniques. This helps the doctor to produce a video depicting 2-dimensional slices of the heart. Off late, doctors have started using one that enables them to have a 3D view. This process is known as echocardiogram, and with its aid, all the four chambers of the heart can be studied thus, diagnosing problems such as enlarged heart, and what has caused it.
  • A test as simple as making the patient perform some exercises such as walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike and the like, may also be involved in the diagnosis of heart enlargement. The purpose of this activity is to monitor the stress that the heart is going through because of the exercise. And any problems such as this one we are speaking of in this article, is most likely to keep the heart from responding properly to any physical activity.
  • Cardiac CT scan and MRI may also be undertaken for establishing a proper diagnosis of the condition. Both these procedures are applied for producing signals that can later form images of the heart.
  • Other tests for the diagnosis may include biopsy that involves extraction of a small sample of the heart, which is studied in the laboratory. In some cases, blood tests may also be one of the requirements to help diagnose an enlarged heart.
Causes

The causes can be cardiac or non-cardiac in nature. Speaking of the former type, the most common causes that may come into the picture are:
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain disease of any of the heart valves
  • Diseased heart muscle
  • Heart attack
  • Defects in the heart's anatomy or function during birth
  • Abnormal beating of the heart (could be faster or slower than normal)
And the non-cardiac causes may include:
  • Lack of healthy red blood cells (anemia)
  • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Underactive thyroid gland
  • Problems with the metabolism of iron in the body thus, causing iron accumulation in various tissues
  • Excess protein in the blood, that can later get deposited in the heart; a rare condition.
What is important to know about all these conditions is, they cause the heart to overwork, meaning pump harder than what is required, or they tend to damage the heart muscle. So one of the repercussions of such malfunctions in the body may be an enlarged heart. However, in some people, the same problem may exist without any known causes such as the above ones.

To repeat, problems such as cardiomegaly cannot be diagnosed until proper medical process is put in place. So regular medical check ups, especially for those with some or other kind of heart problems, at times, can be a life saver. Take care!