Cardiomegaly: An Enlarged Heart

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Cardiomegaly is a medical condition that is also known as an enlarged heart. If you have been diagnosed with cardiomegaly, you most likely have questions about how you developed this condition and you are probably concerned about how cardiomegaly will affect your life and whether there is any cure.

Your heart is a muscle that continuously pumps blood with a regular rate and rhythm to send oxygen and nutrient rich blood throughout your body. An enlarged heart means that your heart has become either larger (dilated) or thicker or both.

An enlarged heart may result in difficulty maintaining optimal heart pumping action, and thus may cause symptoms or consequences for your overall health. The heart may temporarily become enlarged due to stress on the body, the result of a pregnancy or because of a medical condition, such as coronary artery disease, arrhythmia or heart valve disease. Depending on the condition causing the cardiomegaly, treatment may include the use of medication, medical procedures or surgery to correct the cause of the condition.

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Sometimes cardiomegaly does not cause any symptoms.The most common symptoms of cardiomegaly include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness, fatigue
  • Edema and leg swelling

Additional symptoms, such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath and fainting may be the signs of a heart attack. If you experience the signs of a heart attack, you should seek immediate medical attention.


Cardiomegaly can be a hereditary problem, or it may develop if you have a condition that affects your heart function. Most of the time, cardiomegaly develops as a result of a medical condition.

An enlarged heart usually results from situations that force the heart to pump harder or that cause damage to the heart muscle. At times the heart may become enlarged and weak for no apparent reason.

The most common conditions associated with cardiomegaly include the following:

  • Congenital heart condition (a heart problem present at birth)
  • Heart attack (which weakens a section of the heart muscle)
  • Arrhythmia (an irregular heart rhythm)
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart valve disease
  • Cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle itself)
  • Pregnancy (This causes reversible cardiomegaly due to pregnancy weight and fluid that put a strain on the heart. Once pregnancy weight and fluid start to return to normal, cardiomegaly usually resolves on its own.)
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Pericardial effusion (fluid around the heart)
  • Anemia (low blood count)
  • Thyroid disorder
  • Hemochromatosis

Risk Factors

The chances of developing cardiomegaly increase if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of the condition
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart attack


If you have symptoms of cardiomegaly, your healthcare provider will do a physical examination to determine the cause of your symptoms. Your healthcare provider might order some of the following diagnostic tests to further evaluate your situation.

  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test
  • Cardiac CT scan
  • MRI
  • Complete blood count
  • Cardiac catheterization and biopsy


The treatment of cardiomegaly focuses on correcting the cause of the cardiomegaly. The most common treatments include the following medications.

Some of these medications reduce the fluid in your body to decrease the strain on your heart, while some of these medications are more geared towards reducing the risk of heart attacks. So, if you have cardiomegaly, you might need a combination of medications.

If treatment with medication is not enough to correct the condition, medical procedures or surgery may be required. Some of these procedures include:

  • Insertion of a pacemaker
  • Heart valve surgery
  • Coronary bypass surgery
  • Left ventricular assist device
  • Heart transplant


Knowing the risk factors and making lifestyle changes are the best ways to reduce the risk of developing cardiomegaly. Changes in lifestyle may include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting sodium intake
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet
  • Managing stress
  • Reducing or limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Controlling diabetes
  • Eliminating cocaine and illegal drug use

If you have a family history of cardiomegaly, be sure to share this information with a healthcare provider. This way you can have an evaluation to determine if you are already developing cardiomegaly, and you can begin to take preventative measures in advance.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Mu J, Zhang G, Xue D, Xi M, Qi J, Dong H. Sudden cardiac death owing to arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathyMedicine. 2017;96(47). doi:10.1097/md.0000000000008808

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Additional Reading

By Jose Vega MD, PhD
Jose Vega MD, PhD, is a board-certified neurologist and published researcher specializing in stroke.