Left Atrial Enlargement: Signs, Causes, Treatment

You may or may not have signs of left atrial enlargement at its onset. Left atrial enlargement gets discovered through laboratory results of another medical condition.

man holding left chest black and white

Left atrial enlargement (LAE) or left atrial dilation is a dilation where the left atrium of the heart increase in its size and a consequence of either congenital or acquired medical conditions.

The left atrium is located at the back-left side of the heart and one of its four chambers. The upper two chambers are called atria and the lower two chambers are called ventricles. On its right- side atrium and ventricle pumps deoxygenated blood into the lungs. On the other hand, the left atrium’s main function is to serve as a chamber that holds oxygenated blood from the lungs. Then pumps that returning blood to the other parts of the heart. The blood is transported next to another chamber, the left ventricle passing through the mitral valve. It is in the left ventricle chamber that oxygenated blood gets to be pumped to the tissue of the body. As left atrial enlargement is a consequence of various medical conditions, it is important to get oriented on its signs, causes, and treatment.  

What are the Signs of Left Atrial Enlargement?

You may or may not have signs of left atrial enlargement at its onset. Left atrial enlargement gets discovered through laboratory results of another medical condition. Symptoms and signs include:

FatigueShortness of breath
Heart palpitationsChest pain
DizzinessUnusual urination at night   
Night coughingLoss of appetite
Weight gainBreathing difficulty particularly when in a supine position 
FaintingFluid build-up and swelling particularly of legs and ankle 

What Causes LAE? 

The size of a left atrium varies from person to person and may change with age. Therefore, left atrial enlargement is a consequence of medical condition that includes: 

Hypertension

High blood pressure makes the heart work double time in pumping the blood into your body, enlarging and thickening the muscle. Considered as the frequent cause of atrial enlargement because the heart goes thru strenuous actions. The thickening of the heart muscle can cause blockage on the ventricle. The chamber that enlarges first is the left ventricle and as the pressure increases, the left atrium enlargement follows. Thus, the muscle will weaken and will enlarge the atrium.                

Valvular Heart Disease

The mitral valve is responsible for the flow of oxygenated blood stored in the left atrium to the left ventricle. When this valve separates the left atrium and left ventricle narrows (mitral stenosis), the blood builds up in the left atrium resulting in its enlargement. A leak in the mitral valve allows the blood to flow in two directions or reversed back to the left atrium (mitral regurgitation) also leads to enlargement. In addition to the two valvular heart disease is the aortic stenosis, narrowing of the opening of the aortic valve. The left ventricle pumps the oxygenated blood passing this large artery which is the aorta, to the other body parts. The narrowing will trigger a force from the heart to release the blood that eventually will lead to enlargement of both left atrium and ventricle.      

Heart Failure

Heart failure happens when the muscle of the heart weakens or damaged and not able to pump enough blood sufficient for the body. There are factors leading to this condition such as heart attack, uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, drug, and alcohol abuse. The damage of the heart cannot heal. When the heart is weak, the blood in the lungs and its chamber accumulates resulting in left ventricular and left atrial enlargement.           

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF) is a common heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia). This is manifested as an irregular heartbeat either too fast or slow. The normal beating of the heart, contracts and relaxes to a constant interval but not in atrial fibrillation. The irregular heartbeat causes the left and the right atrium to beat contrastingly from the left and right ventricles.  This disorder may further lead to blood clots, stroke, and other heart-related complications if left untreated.

Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid glands produce hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine that regulates not only metabolism but also on how fast your heartbeats. The overactive and underactive thyroid gland may bring about consequences that may involve the heart. Hypothyroidism will slow heart rate. It will risk the heart by fluid accumulation around it, worst a heart failure. As it releases too much hormone, it is now called hyperthyroidism causing heart palpitations. The ventricles pumping acting at a double, affecting the atrium and over time will cause enlargement.

What Are the Treatments? 

Left atrial enlargement treatment will be geared towards what causes it. There are many treatments for a medical condition that cause left atrial enlargement. These treatments ranging from a lifestyle change, medications to complex surgical procedures as your doctor advises necessary. Hypertension is a prevalent cause of the left atrial enlargement, its management is vital.   

Hypertension

  • Monitor your blood pressure 
  • Easy on the salt
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Quit smoking
  • Manage stress 
  • Get enough sleep, at least 8 hours
  • Practice meditation and other relaxation techniques    
  • Maintain your ideal body weight and physical exercise (as advice)  
  • A plant-based diet, fiber-rich food, foods rich in omega 3
  • Limit vegetable oils   
  • Consistency in taking medications for high blood pressure

Mitral Stenosis

  • Anti-arrhythmic medications keep your heartbeat at a normal rate
  • Diuretics lower the amount of fluid and sodium in your body  
  • Anticoagulant medications reduce blood clots  
  • Surgical intervention such as mitral valve replacement

Atrial Fibrillation

  • Anti-arrhythmic medications 
  • Anticoagulant medications
  • Electrical cardioversion procedure when medications do not help
  • Pulmonary vein ablation procedure when intolerance to medications
  • Pacemaker implants   

Left atrial enlargement can be treated by addressing its cause. This is common for people with unmanaged high blood pressure. If the cause of the enlargement is not treated, you are putting yourself in a risky situation such as heart failure. It is important that you go see a doctor so proper diagnosis and treatment follows. Listen to your heart, save a life. 

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