Cardiomegaly is the medical term for an enlarged heart. An enlarged heart isn't an actual condition, but rather a symptom of a condition that is making the heart work harder than it normally does. Repeated strenuous exercise can cause an enlarged heart, and this condition is commonly known as athletes heart.
If you suffer from an enlarged heart, you may not experience any symptoms. However, if symptoms are present, they generally include: shortness of breath, dizziness, swelling, abnormal heart rhythm, heart palpitations, fluid retention and a persistent cough. It is important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms, because you can end up with a serious condition called congestive heart failure.
Athletes heart got it's name because of the way that athletes put excessive strain on their hearts by doing repeated strenuous exercise. This specific condition is generally not a cause for concern. However, it becomes dangerous when the walls of the heart's chambers or the muscle wall of the lower chamber of the heart start to become thickened. Thickened muscle walls can block blood flow and may eventually lead to heart failure. Athletes heart usually presents no symptoms, which is extremely dangerous because the first symptom could be sudden death from an abnormal heart rhythm. According to the American Heart Association, 36 per cent of young athletes who die suddenly have probable or definite athletes heart, also known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Other Causes of an Enlarged Heart
Excessive exercise isn't the only cause for an enlarged heart. There are many other underlying factors that can cause the heart to grow abnormally. These factors include: heart valve disease, high blood pressure, weakness of the heart muscle, congenital heart defect, abnormal heartbeat, anaemia, excessive iron, thyroid disorders and protein build-up in the heart. It is important to understand the underlying cause of an enlarged heart, so that it can be properly managed and treated.
If your doctor believes that your symptoms are due to an enlarged heart, there are several tests that he will order for you. Some tests that you may have done are: chest X-ray, echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, CAT scan, MRI, blood tests and cardiac catheterisation and biopsy. Once he determines the cause of your condition, your doctor can decide how to proceed with your treatment.
Medications can be used to treat an enlarged heart. Medications such as diuretics, angiotensin receptor blockers, Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, beta blockers and Digoxin are often prescribed to patients with an enlarged heart. If the medications don't work to resolve the condition, other medical procedures and surgeries may be suggested. Pacemakers, heart valve surgery and heart transplants are more invasive but often produce excellent results.