published Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Ask A Doctor: I have been told I have an enlarged heart. What does that mean?

By Dr. M. Christian Allan

Q: I have been told I have an enlarged heart. What does that mean?

A: I'm asked this question quite often by patients. After some easy testing, I am often able to tell the patient this is truly not the case. Chest X-rays are common tests in emergency rooms and primary care physicians' offices. They can sometimes overdiagnose this condition based on how the X-ray is performed. An ultrasound of the heart (called an echocardiogram) is a painless test to confirm or reject the diagnosis of an enlarged heart, termed cardiomegaly. If the heart

is truly enlarged, the under-lying conditions range from normal structural changes in athletes to weakened hearts caused by other illnesses such as heart attacks. A weakened heart is termed congestive heart failure and is the most common diagnosis associated with a confirmed finding of an enlarged heart. This is treated with medication, and the overall prognosis varies based on the underlying cause. Common causes are heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure and drug use. To some degree, with proper treatment, we can see enlarged hearts return to normal size. More importantly, patients can feel better and live longer.

-- Dr. M. Christian Allan, Diagnostic Cardiology Group; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society

Readers: To submit a health-related question for a medical doctor, email it to Clint Cooper at

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