Enlarged Heart

What is an enlarged heart?

Think of a healthy heart like a firm biceps muscle. An enlarged heart is just the opposite.

When your heart is enlarged, it’s like a soft biceps — it’s weak and out of shape. Your body starts to retain fluid, your lungs get congested with fluid and your heart begins to beat irregularly.

“In general the term ‘enlarged heart’ refers to heart failure,” said Clyde Yancy, M.D., past president of the American Heart Association and chief of the Division of Cardiology and the Magerstadt Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “This is a common condition that’s more likely to occur in older patients. It’s most strongly related to a history of high blood pressure or a previous heart attack.”

About one in five adults over age 40 is affected, with African-Americans facing a greater risk.

“There are other reasons for an enlarged heart or heart muscle disorders (like cardiomyopathies, which are diseases of the heart muscle) and not everyone with heart failure has an enlarged heart,” Dr. Yancy said. “But when we speak of an enlarged heart we are typically referring to heart failure.”

What to Look For
Shortness of breath, fluid retention (edema) and having a harder time exercising are among the key symptoms of an enlarged heart or heart failure. Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) — potentially even serious irregular heart rhythms and strokes — are likely as well, Dr. Yancy said.

The symptoms of an enlarged heart can affect the quality and length of your life, Dr. Yancy said.

“This is why treatment is so important and why we are so encouraged that good treatments are available today,” he said.
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