Enlarged heart, in medical terms, is attributed as 'cardiomegaly'. Most people regard it as a medical condition in itself, but it is not. It is a symptom or let's say, a manifestation of some other conditions, which may or may not be associated with the heart. Factors that can cause the heart to get enlarged, as studied by doctors, either cause the heart to overwork (which thickens it), or damage the organ (weakens the heart muscle). But in a few cases, the cause remains unidentified, thus making the condition idiopathic. Speaking of the symptoms, for some people, the condition is asymptomatic, that is, it does not show any symptoms. And whatever symptoms do occur for some, are primarily because of the underlying cause of the enlargement. These may include shortness of breath, dizziness, swelling, chronic cough, abnormal heart rate, low blood pressure and chest pain. The nature of the symptoms may depend on the side of the heart that has been affected. So considering all these symptoms, the doctor may perform certain tests to rule out an enlarged heart, and to determine the underlying cause as well.

Diagnostic Tools for Ascertaining Cardiomegaly

X-ray, is perhaps the most common medical procedure that is put to use while diagnosing any kind of heart disease or disorder. Also known X-radiation, this process exposes the patient to beams of electromagnetic radiation. These beams, depending upon the density of the material that they pass through, are absorbed in different amounts. Materials such as bones in the body usually show up in white; fats and muscles in gray; and air (like in the lungs) in black. So as you must have understood from this explanation, X-ray projected on the heart produces images of the lungs and the heart. So with the help of such images, doctors are able to draw a conclusion whether the heart has enlarged or not. Besides this, the test may also help determine other conditions which are causing the signs and symptoms in the patient.

Another test to diagnose an enlarged heart is what is known as an Electrocardiogram (ECG) or (EKG). This method requires electrodes to be attached to the skin. Now the working principle of this test is associated with the upper right chamber of the heart. This is the spot in the heart where electric impulses are generated from. And these impulses are responsible for triggering what we know as heartbeat. So the electrodes that are attached to the skin of the patient, pick up these electrical impulses, and record the data, which is then, either displayed on a monitor or printed on a paper. The doctor studies the pattern that occurs among these impulses, thus determines any damage that has been caused to the heart, and other heart conditions.

Not to be confused with 'electrocardiogram', echocardiogram is another reliable way to diagnose an enlarged heart. It makes use of the principle of sound waves. Also known as ECHO, it employs standard ultrasound techniques to create images of the heart in a two-dimensional manner. Medical experts find its use extremely helpful in determining various heart conditions, as the method enables them to study the shape and size of the organ, its pumping capacity, heart valves, and the extent of the damage that might have been inflicted on the heart tissues. Even the pattern of blood flow can be assessed with the aid of this diagnostic tool.

Exercise Stress Test
Another diagnostic method to rule out an enlarged heart, and other heart conditions, way simpler than the above ones, involves evaluating the performance of the patient's heart during increased physical activity. As obvious it is, the heart works faster when the body in indulged in any physical activity. So this test requires the patient to walk on a treadmill, workout on a stationary bike, etc. And while the patient is undergoing the test, his/her heart rate, blood pressure and breathing are recorded and measured. And these readings are used to determine how well the heart is working. To add to this, this test is not only meant for diagnostic purpose, but is also a treatment option if the patient has already been diagnosed with a heart condition.

CT Scan and MRI Scan
CT scan is the short for computerized tomography scan, and MRI is for magnetic resonance imaging. These techniques are applied to produce images of the heart. CT scan uses the aid of an X-ray to produce the images, while MRI makes use of magnetic filed to do the same. The CT scan works to create X-ray views of the bones and soft tissues in the body. And the views are taken from multiple angles so that the doctor may come up with a 3-D image of the heart. And in MRI, magnetic field is used to align the water molecules in the body. It also uses radio waves, which when used over the aligned particles, produce faint signals. And these signals vary according to the type of tissues over which the test is performed. Even this method produces a 3-D image of the heart.

Some additional tests for heart enlargement may include blood tests, and biopsy. The purpose of the blood test is to reveal the composition of the blood which may help to indicate problems of the heart. And biopsy is about extracting a small sample of the heart for lab tests.

All the above procedures discussed above are basically the common diagnostic methods for determining several heart conditions. Since enlarged heart is usually an outcome or a symptom of some other underlying heart condition, once doctors are able to determine the cause, they can begin the required treatment to cure the disease or slow down its progress. Take care!