What is left atrial enlargement?
What is left atrial enlargement? When the upper left chamber of the heart, the left atrium, increases in size, this is known as left atrial enlargement. Enlargement of the left atrium is also called left atrial dilation. It is a type of cardiomegaly.
The heart contains four chambers – two atria and two ventricles – and four valves. These components work together to pump blood rich in oxygen and nutrients to the body’s organs and tissues. Left atrial enlargement disrupts this pumping process.
So, what does it mean to have a left atrial enlargement? It means that an important component of the heart is physically abnormal and may not function properly. This dysfunction can cause disturbing symptoms and life-threatening complications. Enlargement of the left atrial chamber is a serious heart problem that should be monitored and treated medically. It usually has an underlying cause.
What causes left atrial enlargement?
There are many possible left atrial enlargement causes. According to experts, body size and age are factors that can increase the size of the left atrium. For example, enlargement can develop with obesity, and changes that occur naturally within the body with aging can enlarge the chamber. In a lot of cases, bodily changes manifest as medical conditions that cause left atrial enlargement.
Conditions that can cause the left atrium to enlarge include hypertension, left ventricular dysfunction, and heart valve disease. Bicuspid valve and aortic valve problems – such as aortic or mitral regurgitation and aortic or mitral valve stenosis – are known to enlarge the left atrium. Heart failure and atrial fibrillation of the heart are other potential causes of left atrial enlargement.
Less commonly, left atrium enlargement may develop due to congenital defects such as ventricular septal defect and patent ductus arteriosus. Cardiac atrial myomas and sleep apnea resulting from obstructions of the upper respiratory tract can also enlarge the left atrium. Left atrial enlargement can be moderate, mild, or severe, depending on the severity of the underlying condition.
What are the symptoms of left atrial enlargement?
Enlargement of the left atrium does not always produce noticeable symptoms. This is particularly the case when the condition is mild and/or in the early stages. When there are symptoms of left atrial enlargement, they are usually related to the cause of the left atrial abnormality. Since there are various possible causes for the enlargement of the chamber, the symptoms can be numerous.
Left atrial enlargement symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath (dyspnea), and rapid or irregular heartbeats, as well as chest pain, dizziness (lightheadedness), and fainting or syncope. Other symptoms of left atrium enlargement include lack of appetite, nausea, and excessive urination at night (nocturia), with periods of persistent coughing that may also take place in the evenings.
Weight gain is another possible symptom of enlargement of the left atrium. It may occur due to edema resulting from one or more causes of left atrial enlargement. With edema, fluid accumulates abnormally in the bodily tissues (often rapidly), causing weight gain and swelling. It normally affects the legs, ankles, and feet, but it can also occur in the stomach and other parts of the body.
Can left atrial enlargement be cured?
As mentioned, there aren’t always noticeable physical symptoms present with enlargement of the left atrium. When there are, though, the symptoms of left atrial enlargement can be considerably bothersome, leading those affected to research treatments and cures. What is left atrial enlargement? Can left atrial enlargement be cured? Is it reversible? These are frequently asked questions.
There is no quick-fix cure for left atrial enlargement. However, symptoms can usually be managed and complications can be prevented. Furthermore, there are curative treatments for some of the conditions that cause enlargement of the left atrium. For instance, when mitral regurgitation is the cause, mitral valve repair or replacement surgery can restore proper blood flow and heart function.
Is left atrial enlargement reversible? Not always, but yes. With treatment, it is possible for an enlarged left atrium to reduce in size or even return to normal. It depends on the underlying cause and the patient’s specific circumstances. Sometimes, left atrial enlargement is reversible with weight loss and nothing more. There is a strong connection between left atrial enlargement and obesity.
How is left atrial enlargement treated?
Left atrial enlargement treatment typically involves addressing the cause of the atrium enlargement. This commonly entails making lifestyle changes and taking prescription medications to relieve symptoms and prevent left atrial enlargement complications. Some individuals require surgery to correct the problem causing the enlargement of the left atrium and reduce its size.
Treatment for hypertension may include maintaining a heart-healthy diet, limiting salt intake, and getting regular exercise. Doctors generally recommend weight loss if necessary. Can left atrial enlargement be reversed with weight loss? It can, in some patients. One may also need to take high blood pressure drugs to treat hypertension, such as diuretics, ARBs, and beta blockers.
The treatment methods for mitral stenosis/regurgitation and atrial fibrillation are similar to those for hypertension. Patients are normally advised to eat healthy and exercise, and drugs are often prescribed. These include thiazide diuretics, anticoagulants, and anti-arrhythmics. Heart valve surgery, pacemaker implantation, and non-surgical procedures for AFib are other treatment options.
How is left atrial enlargement diagnosed?
Enlargement of the left atrium is diagnosable using echocardiography. This is an imaging method that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the heart. During an echocardiogram, a specialist attaches electrodes to the chest. He or she then passes a transducer over it to generate echoes of sound waves. These echoes produce images for viewing on a video monitor.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) are other testing methods that can provide a left atrial enlargement diagnosis. Both methods can produce detailed images of the structures of the heart, making it possible to safely establish if the left atrium is enlarged and how to treat left atrial enlargement. The tests differ in the technologies that are used, though.
Electrocardiography (ECG) can also be useful in the diagnosis of left atrial enlargement. A noticeable notch in the P wave suggests that the left atrium is enlarged. However, if the patient has atrial fibrillation, then a P wave will not be present. When ECG findings suggest dilation or enlargement of the left atrium in the heart, physicians will typically perform other tests to confirm the diagnosis.
What is the enlarged left atrium prognosis?
The prognosis with a dilated left atrium depends on the patient’s age and health status and if it is mild left atrial enlargement, a moderately dilated left atrium or severe left atrial enlargement. It also depends on the cause of the enlargement and how the underlying condition progresses. If the problem goes untreated and/or is not managed effectively, then dangerous complications can develop.
Atrial fibrillation is the main complication of left atrial hypertrophy. It is a serious medical condition that is characterized by irregular and rapid beating of the heart’s atrial chambers. A-Fib can lead to problems such as blood clotting, strokes, and heart failure, all of which can be life threatening. That being said, these problems can occur as complications in the absence of atrial fibrillation.
While left atrial enlargement is associated with certain complications and symptoms, outcomes vary among those affected. Moreover, people with a mildly dilated left atrium can have very different experiences to those with a severely dilated left atrium. What is left atrial enlargement? A potentially deadly heart problem. Thus, it should be diagnosed and treated promptly by professionals.