Cardiomegaly means an enlarged heart. Mild cardiomegaly refers to less severe forms. This is a sign of another heart-related condition. You may not know you have an enlarged heart unless you undergo imaging tests or have symptoms of the underlying condition.
The earlier the underlying cause is detected, the better the outcome. Keep reading to learn more about mild cardiomegaly.
Symptoms of mild cardiomegaly
Mild cardiomegaly usually doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms. Symptoms usually don’t appear unless cardiomegaly becomes moderate or severe. These symptoms could include:
- abdominal bloating
- abnormal heart rhythms, known as arrhythmia
- chest pain
- coughing, especially when lying down
- shortness of breath
- swelling, or edema, especially in the ankles, feet, and legs
When to call a doctor
You should seek emergency medical treatment if you experience severe chest pain and shortness of breath. These may be signs of a heart attack.
Causes of mild cardiomegaly
Mild cardiomegaly is caused by either ventricular hypertrophy or ventricular dilation:
In ventricular hypertrophy, the muscle that makes up the wall of your ventricle becomes thickened. Conditions that can lead to ventricular hypertrophy include:
- chronic anemia
- illicit drug abuse
- heart valve disease
- high blood pressure, or hypertension
- thyroid disease
- obstructive sleep apnea
- pulmonary hypertension
Ventricular dilation is when the muscle that makes up the wall of your ventricle is too thin. Conditions that can lead to ventricular dilation include:
- alcohol use disorder
- illicit drug abuse
- heart valve disease
- nutritional deficiencies
- heart disease, or history of a heart attack
- viral infections
- extreme stress, which leads to a condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy
In temporary cases, the heart enlargement may go down on its own without intervention. You’ll still need to check in with a doctor regularly to monitor your condition.
Risk factors for mild cardiomegaly
You have a higher risk for cardiomegaly if you are at risk for heart-related diseases. Risk factors include:
- a family history of heart disease
- a sedentary lifestyle
- history of alcohol or drug abuse
- having a metabolic disorder, such as thyroid disease
Diagnosing mild cardiomegaly
Imaging tests are the best way to detect an enlarged heart. These measure your heart’s size, movement of blood throughout the chambers and valves, and your heart’s electrical activity. Your doctor may order one or more of the following:
Once your doctor has diagnosed you with mild cardiomegaly, they’ll determine the underlying cause. Further testing might include:
Treating mild cardiomegaly varies. The right treatments depend on the underlying condition:
For heart conditions, the preferred first line of treatment is medication. Your doctor may recommend different medications for the following:
- atrial fibrillation: antiarrhythmic drugs and blood thinners
- heart valve disease or hypertension: diuretics, alpha- or beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, or calcium channel blockers, which all work together to reduce stress on the heart by relaxing blood vessels and reducing excess pumping action
- anemia: iron supplements
In the case of hemochromatosis, instead of medications, phlebotomy (blood removal) is performed to get rid of excess iron.
Metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and thyroid disease, can all lead to an enlarged heart. This is especially the case if the conditions are untreated. Being overweight can worsen the problem.
Making sure you’re up to date on your medications for diabetes and thyroid disease can help reduce complications like cardiomegaly. If you’re overweight, losing excess pounds can make a difference, too.
If your mild cardiomegaly is caused by alcohol or drug abuse, a sedentary lifestyle, or poor nutrition, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as these:
- Schedule workouts on most days of the week.
- Keep your sodium intake under 1,500 milligrams per day.
- Reduce your alcohol intake.
- Quit smoking.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Swap out processed grains for whole grains.
- Eliminate junk and processed foods from your diet.
Talk to your doctor if you need treatment for addiction. They can refer you to specialists who can help.
Temporary conditions that cause cardiomegaly may or may not require medical intervention.
- Pregnancy: Heart enlargement caused by an uncomplicated pregnancy may go down after delivery. Pregnancy complications that cause cardiomegaly, however, may require medications.
- Infection: Cardiomegaly caused by a viral infection may go away on its own once the infection has resolved. Your doctor may suggest treatment with antiviral medications.
- Drug and alcohol use: Mild cardiomegaly caused by excess drug or alcohol use may also resolve once you stop. Long-term treatment may be required for any substance abuse.
Mild cardiomegaly isn’t considered as serious as moderate or severe cardiomegaly. But for all forms of cardiomegaly, the focus should be on the underlying condition. Some mild forms are temporary, such as those caused by drug and alcohol abuse. Other forms are permanent, and can progressively get worse if the underlying condition isn’t treated.
Rather, your outlook will depend on the underlying cause of cardiomegaly. More severe cases of cardiomegaly could impact your daily activities, such as work and exercise. If the underlying cause of mild cardiomegaly isn’t treated, your condition may get worse.