Enlarged heart or cardiomegaly is an indication of an underlying condition rather than a disease in itself. Enlargement makes the heart work harder than normal and weakens the heart muscles after a period of time. An enlarged heart has a number of causes including hypertension and coronary artery disease, the two most common causes of the condition. Cardiomegaly may resolve with time even without any specific treatment. But in some cases, the person may have to take medications for a long period. The risk of developing enlarged heart increases considerably with age.
If the condition is left untreated it may result in some complications including:
- Heart failure – As the muscles of the heart thicken, the efficiency of pumping blood reduces. This may result in heart failure. The chances of heart failure increases with enlargement of the left ventricle. The heart will not be able to meet the demand of pumping blood to different parts of the body.
- Heart murmurs – This refers to the abnormal sounds that arise during the heart beat. It is caused by the incomplete closure of the valves, the mitral and tricuspid valves, as they are dilated. The backflow of the blood into the chambers causes the abnormal sound called as murmurs. Although it is not very serious, murmurs which persist should be monitored.
- Blood Clots – Cardiomegaly increases the risk of developing blood clots. Small clots are formed in the lining of the heart and these may move to other parts through the blood stream. These clots may later result in stroke or heart attack as they reach brain and heart, respectively. Clots that reach the lungs may result in a serious condition called pulmonary embolism.
- Cardiac arrest – Abnormal rhythms in the heart beat can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden death. The heart beat may become too slow to pump blood or become too rapid for functioning properly.
Enlargement of the heart can be of different types.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy – In this condition, walls of both the sides become stretched.
- Left ventricular enlargement – This is when the left ventricle is enlarged and is usually caused by hypertension.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – This is a genetic, inherited condition.
The pumping ability of the heart is better if the enlargement is due to thickening of the heart muscles as opposed to the thinning of the walls.