Know the signs of an enlarged heart

January 11, 2019 Providence Health Team

When your heart muscles becomes enlarged or stiffen, your heart can be weakened, affecting its ability to pump blood through your system. This condition, known as cardiomyopathy, can affect anyone and may eventually lead to serious heart problems.

Some people may have it and never know it. But for some, symptoms can worsen quickly. In such cases, cardiomyopathy can be life-threatening and must be treated.

What causes cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy may be inherited, or it may occur in conjunction with autoimmune diseases such as lupus or via infection, prolonged high blood pressure, obesity or drinking too much alcohol.

What are its symptoms?

The symptoms may be the same as for heart failure, including shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling of the feet or ankles and fainting. If you have any of these symptoms, you should consult your health care provider and be ready to discuss any history of heart problems in your family. 

How is it treated?

The way your cardiomyopathy is treated will depend on what caused it to develop. If it is related to high blood pressure, your provider will likely prescribe medication to keep it within a healthier range. If it seems related to smoking or immoderate drinking, your doctor will urge you to quit. You may be encouraged to get more exercise. You may be a candidate for an implant or even a transplant, though such cases are relatively rare.

Be candid with your doctor so she can prescribe the treatment most appropriate for you.

Further reading

The American Academy of Family Physicians has a user-friendly site that discusses the symptoms, risk factors and treatments of all forms of cardiomyopathy. It includes a set of questions you should ask your doctor, such as, “What’s the likely cause of my cardiomyopathy?” and “Do I need to make any lifestyle changes?”

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) offers a somewhat more clinical take on the condition.

Also, read our previous posts “Guard your heart: How to prevent, survive and recover from a heart attack,” “What is a heart murmur?,” and “Women’s heart health and the warning signs you shouldn’t ignore.”

See a provider

Providence specializes in heart health throughout its network, including the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Oregon and Southwest Washington, the Heart and Vascular Institute at Providence St. Joseph in southern California, the Providence St. Mary Heart and Vascular Center in Walla Walla, Washington, the International Heart Institute at Providence St. Patrick in Missoula, Montana, and the Providence Heart & Vascular Center in Alaska.

If you or someone you care about shows symptoms of cardiomyopathy or heart failure, please see a health care provider. You can find a Providence provider in our online directory:

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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