Treating Mild Cardiomegaly (An Enlarged Heart)

Cardiomegaly is a term that means an enlarged heart. To get a sense of the size of your heart, take your right hand and make a fist. Place the fist on your chest and you will have the approximate size of your heart. In mild cardiomegaly, the heart is slightly bigger than your fist.

This matters because it can be a sign of underlying heart disease. If someone has told you that you have mild cardiomegaly, that means they have seen your heart, usually through an imaging method such as an X-ray or ultrasound.

There are several common heart conditions that can cause you to have an enlarged heart. Many of them have treatments that can help to reduce the heart from enlarging further. In some cases, you may not have any symptoms from an enlarged heart. However, if the enlargement impacts the function of your heart you may notice issues such as swelling in your legs or difficulty breathing while lying down flat. 

This article discusses what can cause cardiomegaly and how to treat it.

talking to heart doctor

Ariel Skelley / Verywell

Heart Disorders

There are a variety of heart disorders that can lead to mild cardiomegaly. Mild cardiomegaly is generally not considered to be a disease of the heart, but instead the consequence of certain heart diseases. Understanding the cause of mild cardiomegaly makes management and treatment much more effective. Causes can include:

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most frequent cause of an enlarged heart. High blood pressure makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Think of your heart as a muscle: Just like your biceps might enlarge to lift heavy weights, the heart enlarges to generate more force. This is because increased pressure in the body makes the heart work harder to deliver blood. To fix this issue, blood pressure medications are often used to keep your heart from working so hard. Blood pressure medications try to keep your blood pressure within a safe range for your heart to operate.
  • Diseases of the heart valves: This includes aortic valve disease and mitral valve disease. When the valves of the heart are defective, then blood flow within the heart is disrupted and the heart will enlarge to accommodate the extra blood. Treatments including procedures to repair or replace the valves can help control the size of the heart. 

Blood Disorders

Certain blood disorders can result in the enlargement of the heart. These include:

Blood disorders impact the delivery of oxygen to tissues in the body by hemoglobin. As an example, in anemia, the body has a reduced level of hemoglobin, which leads to decreased oxygen delivery in the body. The heart will try to compensate for anemia by increasing in size to push blood more rapidly through the body. 

Treatments for blood disorders that impact the heart vary. For example, with anemia, you may be prescribed iron supplements to support your body’s production of red blood cells. With conditions like beta thalassemia or sickle cell disease, your doctors may need to use blood transfusions to treat your anemia.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can impact the size of the heart temporarily. In pregnancy, your heart is responsible for pumping your blood and the blood to your baby. The extra demand makes the heart work harder and enlarge. Usually, the cardiomegaly in pregnancy is reversible, and the heart goes back to a normal size a few months after the baby is born.

Drugs and Alcohol

Consuming cocaine, methamphetamine, or large amounts of alcohol is known to cause a heart disease called cardiomyopathy. Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine place the heart under a large amount of stress. Over time, the stress causes the heart to enlarge. Alcohol can create toxins in the body that damage the heart.

Ultimately, these substances can cause the heart to enlarge as it tries to work harder. In many cases, the heart will return to normal function if you limit the consumption of these substances.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is mild cardiomegaly a serious condition?

Mild cardiomegaly is used to describe a mildly enlarged heart. Mild cardiomegaly may be one of the first signs of another heart disorder. If you have cardiomegaly, you should consult with a physician so they can evaluate the potential causes of an enlarged heart. 

Can you get over mild cardiomegaly?

Many conditions that cause mild cardiomegaly have treatments that can help reduce the heart from enlarging. Depending on the cause of the cardiomegaly, there may even be ways to reverse the enlargement.

How long can you live with mild cardiomegaly?

People can live for many years, often decades, with cardiomegaly. Certain treatments, such as medications or interventions, can help prevent further enlargement of the heart. Many people live with mild cardiomegaly and do not develop symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Medications and procedures to treat heart diseases can help patients live long and fulfilling lives, making issues like mild cardiomegaly manageable. Heart disease is the most common disease in the world, and many advances have been made to treat heart disease effectively. 

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2 Sources
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  1. American Heart Association. What is cardiomyopathy in adults? Updated October 14, 2020.

  2. American Heart Association. Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Updated March 31, 2016.