After the Grinch Stole Christmas – How Dr. Seuss Misdiagnosed an Enlarged Heart

In the cartoon world of Dr. Seuss, a heart suddenly growing three sizes in a day might be cause for celebration. But in this world, it’s called cardiomegaly—and it’s a serious medical condition.

“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”

But while the Whos down in Whoville were celebrating this very sudden and literal change of heart, the Grinch’s cardiologist was rather concerned.

Cardiomegaly, or an enlarged heart, is a serious medical condition that can increase risk of developing cardiovascular disease, as well as increase risk of having a stroke or heart attack. This enlargement may be permanent or temporary, depending on the cause.

Importantly, cardiomegaly is manageable and treatable by addressing the underlying cause with medication or surgical intervention.

What Causes Cardiomegaly?

Not to disagree with Dr. Seuss, but there is zero medical evidence to suggest that excess generosity or joy causes cardiomegaly.

Like any other muscle, the heart has the potential to grow when it gets a workout. And if the heart is working harder and harder over a prolonged period of time, such as due to chronic cardiovascular disease or chronic obesity, it also can get thicker and enlarged. Unfortunately, instead of making the heart better at its job, this enlargement leads to difficulties effectively pumping blood through the body.

Several medical conditions can increase your risk of developing cardiomegaly. These include:

  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Arrhythmia

Other non-medical risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Excess use of drugs and alcohol

Other times, short-term stresses, such as pregnancy or an infection, can cause minor cardiomegaly. This enlargement will go away with time.

Symptoms of Cardiomegaly

Not everyone with cardiomegaly will show signs or symptoms. For those who are not asymptomatic, they may show evidence of these symptoms:

  • Fatigue and dizziness
  • Shortness of breath, particularly while lying flat
  • Waking up short of breath
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Swelling in the midsection, legs and feet.

If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, talk to a physician. No matter the cause, they’re worth investigating.

How to Prevent Cardiomegaly

There’s nothing anyone can do about family history and genetics, but there are quite a few things everyone can do to live a more heart-healthy lifestyle.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet (veggies, fruits, nuts, grains, fish)
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage blood pressure and cholesterol
  • No tobacco or recreational drugs (alcohol in moderation)
  • Get healthy sleep (8 hours/night)

And in addition to decreasing your risk of cardiomegaly, following those healthy steps can help increase energy and general wellness.

For more information on interventional and diagnostic cardiology services at First Physicians Group, click here.

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