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You’ve got a big heart. Can it hurt you?

The medical term for an enlarged heart is cardiomegaly. A common misconception is that an enlarged heart is a disease on its own but in fact it is only a symptom of another disease or condition. There...

The medical term for an enlarged heart is cardiomegaly. A common misconception is that an enlarged heart is a disease on its own but in fact it is only a symptom of another disease or condition. There are many reasons for having an enlarged heart which include high blood pressure, heart valve disease, weakness of the heart muscle and congenital heart defects, just to name a few. The symptoms of an enlarged heart vary from person to person. In some people, an enlarged heart does not cause any signs and symptoms while others may experience breathing difficulties, dizziness, abnormal heart rhythm, swelling, chest pain and severe cough.

The complications that arise due to an enlarged heart mainly depend of which part of the heart is affected as well as the underlying cause. By far, the most serious type of enlarged heart involves the left ventricle, which may lead to heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump sufficient amounts of blood to meet the demands of the body. As a result, the muscles of the heart eventually weaken and stretch to the point where the heart can not pump blood efficiently throughout the body.

Blood clots are also a concern with an enlarged heart. Small blood clots that form in the lining of the heart may travel to other parts of the body causing complications such as strokes or pulmonary embolisms, both of which can be life-threatening.

Some rarer forms of enlarged hearts can lead to disruptions in the heart’s beating rhythm. It may cause the heart to beat either too fast or slow. Unfortunately, both of these scenarios may result in cardiac arrest or sudden death.

As with most medical conditions, it is much easier to treat an enlarged heart when it is detected early. Thus, it is important to consult your physician if you have any concerns about the functioning of your heart.

If your physician feels that you are experiencing heart problems, they will perform specific tests to determine if your heart is enlarged and to find out the underlying cause of your condition.

A chest X-ray is often the first test ordered as it will display the condition of your lungs and heart. Next, your physician will order an electrocardiogram. This test is designed to monitor the electrical activity of your heart. The results of this test will allow your physician to identify heart rhythm problems and damage to your heart from previous heart attacks. An echo-cardiogram may also be performed, as it is an important test for diagnosis and monitoring an enlarged heart. This test uses sound waves to produce a video image of your heart in order to assess your heart valves and efficiency of your heart. Finally, your doctor may order a CT scan, MRI and/or blood tests in order to better diagnosis your condition.

As you may have guessed, treatment of an enlarged heart focuses on correcting the underlying condition. Usually, the first line of treatment will include medications to treat heart failure symptoms, including diuretics, beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors. If medications are not sufficient, surgery may be necessary. Surgery to fix valve problems and regulate heartbeat is often required. If all else fails, a heart transplant may be the only option. However, the waiting lists are very long as there is a shortage of donor hearts.

Although it is impossible to completely prevent your heart from enlarging, there are a few things you can do to decrease your chances. Having a healthy lifestyle, which includes a proper diet and exercise is a good place to start. Specifically, avoiding tobacco smoke and excessive alcohol will also decrease your risk. Finally, try to sleep between six to eight hours each night.

Until next month, drive safely.

-Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.

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