An enlarged heart is medically known as cardiomegaly. Cardiomegaly can be caused by a number of different conditions, including diseases of the heart muscle or heart valves, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and pulmonary hypertension. Cardiomegaly can also sometimes accompany longstanding anemia and thyroid diseases, among other conditions. So-called infiltrative diseases of the heart, for example, in which abnormal proteins (amyloidosis) or excess iron (hemochromatosis) accumulate within the tissues of the heart, can also cause an enlargement of the heart. Infections, nutritional deficiencies, toxins (such as alcohol or drugs), and some medications have been associated with cardiomegaly. In some situations (for example, pregnancy), there can be a temporary increased demand on the heart, resulting in some temporary enlargement.
It is important to remember that an enlarged heart is not a disease itself but a physical sign that can accompany many diseases and conditions. Not all of the associated conditions listed below, however, will always result in cardiomegaly. Treatment and prognosis are dependent upon the underlying cause. A pericardial effusion is the accumulation of fluid in the sac surrounding the heart, which can lead to the appearance of an enlarged heart.
Cardiomyopathy is a related term that refers to damage to the heart muscle. Cardiomyopathies are often accompanied by cardiomegaly.
Symptoms of cardiomegaly depend on the cause. Sometimes, cardiomegaly may not cause symptoms. In other cases it can cause signs and symptoms like edema (water retention) with weight gain, arrhythmia, palpitations, tiredness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Heart Disease Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ
Take our Heart Disease Quiz to get answers and facts about high cholesterol, atherosclerosis prevention, and the causes,...
Heart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack
Learn about heart disease and heart attack symptoms and signs of a heart attack in men and women. Read about heart disease...
Picture of Heart
The muscle that pumps blood received from veins into arteries throughout the body. See a picture of the Heart and learn more...
Causes of Enlarged Heart
Alcoholism is a disease that includes alcohol craving and continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as...
Amyloidosis is a group of diseases resulting from abnormal deposition of certain proteins (amyloids) in various bodily areas. The...
Anemia is the condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin...
An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. With an arrhythmia, the heartbeats may be irregular or too slow (bradycardia), to...
Chest pain is a common complaint by a patient in the ER. Causes of chest pain include broken or bruised ribs, pleurisy,...
Cocaine and Crack Abuse
Cocaine is an addictive stimulant that is smoked, snorted, and injected. Crack is cocaine that comes in a rock crystal that is...
Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital heart defects are heart problems that are present at birth. Genetics may play a role in some heart defects. Symptoms...
Fabry Disease (Symptoms and Life Expectancy)
Fabry disease (Fabry's disease, alpha-galactosidase-A) is a genetic disorder with symptoms such as burning sensations in...
Heart attack happens when a blood clot completely obstructs a coronary artery supplying blood to the heart muscle. A heart attack...
Heart disease (coronary artery disease) occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, the vessels that supply blood to...
Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease occurs when the heart valves do not work the way they should. Symptoms of valve disease include shortness of...
Hemochromatosis (Iron Overload)
Hereditary hemochromatosis (iron overload) is an inherited disorder in which there is excessive accumulation of iron in the body....
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Signs, Causes, Diet, and Treatment
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a disease in which pressure within the arteries of the body is elevated. About 75 million...
High Blood Pressure Treatment (Natural Home Remedies, Diet, Medications)
High blood pressure (hypertension) means high pressure (tension) in the arteries. Treatment for high blood pressure include...
Hyperthyroidism is an excess of thyroid hormone resulting from an overactive thyroid gland. Symptoms can include increased...
Hypothyroidism (Symptoms, Diet, Natural and Medical Treatments, Tests)
Hypothyroidism is any state in which thyroid hormone production is below normal. Normally, the rate of thyroid hormone...
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness, which is spread by ticks when they bite the skin. Initially the disease affects the skin...
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle and can be caused by a variety of infections, conditions, and viruses....
Pulmonary Hypertension (Symptoms, Treatment Medications, Life Expectancy)
Pulmonary hypertension is an increase pressure in the pulmonary arteries that carry blood from the lungs to the heart. The most...
Sarcoidosis, a disease resulting from chronic inflammation, causes small lumps (granulomas) to develop in a great range of body...
Other Causes of Enlarged Heart
Examples of Medications for Enlarged Heart
Subscribe to MedicineNet's Heart Health Newsletter