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Left ventricular hypertrophy

Left ventricular hypertrophy is enlargement (hypertrophy) of the muscle tissue that makes up the wall of your heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle).

Left ventricular hypertrophy develops in response to some factor, such as high blood pressure, that requires the left ventricle to work harder. As the workload increases, the walls of the chamber grow thicker, lose elasticity and eventually may fail to pump with as much force as that of a healthy heart.

Left ventricular hypertrophy is more common in people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure or other heart problems. Treating high blood pressure can help ease your symptoms and may reverse the left ventricular hypertrophy.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Left ventricular hypertrophy usually develops gradually. You may experience no signs or symptoms, especially during the early stages of the condition. As left ventricular hypertrophy progresses and complications develop, you may experience these left ventricular hypertrophy symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain, often after exercising
  • Sensation of rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats (palpitations)
  • Dizziness or fainting

When to see a doctor

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you feel chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes or have severe difficulty breathing. If you experience mild shortness of breath or other symptoms, such as palpitations, see your doctor.

If you have high blood pressure or another condition that increases your risk of left ventricular hypertrophy, talk to your doctor about regular appointments to monitor your heart. Even if you feel well, you need to have your blood pressure checked annually, or more often if you smoke, are overweight or have other conditions that increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Left ventricular hypertrophy can happen when one or more things make your heart work harder than normal to pump blood to your body. For example, if you have high blood pressure, the muscles of the left ventricle must contract more forcefully than normal in order to counter the effect of the elevated blood pressure.

The work of adapting to high blood pressure may result in larger muscle tissue in the walls of the left ventricle. The increase in muscle mass causes the heart to function poorly.

Some factors that can cause your heart to work harder include the following:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension). A blood pressure reading is given in a unit of measure called millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Hypertension is generally defined as systolic pressure greater than 140 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure greater than 90 mm Hg, or 140/90 mm Hg. Systolic pressure is blood pressure while the heart contracts, and diastolic pressure is blood pressure while the heart rests between beats.
  • Aortic valve stenosis. This disease is a narrowing of the aortic valve, the flap separating your left ventricle from the aorta, the large blood vessel that delivers oxygen-rich blood to your body. This partial obstruction of blood flow requires the left ventricle to work harder to pump blood into the aorta.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In this disease, the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick — or hypertrophied. This thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood.
  • Athletic training. Intense, prolonged endurance and strength training can cause the heart to adapt so that it can handle the extra workload. In some people, these changes may lead to left ventricular hypertrophy.

Risk factors for left ventricular hypertrophy include the following:

  • High blood pressure, a blood pressure reading greater than 140/90 mm Hg increases your risk of left ventricular hypertrophy. In addition, a nighttime blood pressure reading greater than 120/80 mm Hg also increases your risk.
  • Obesity can cause high blood pressure and increase your body's demand for oxygen, factors that may lead to left ventricular hypertrophy.
  • Aortic stenosis, narrowing of the main valve through which blood leaves the heart, may increase the left ventricle's workload.
  • Certain genes. Certain genes are associated with an increased risk of left ventricular hypertrophy.

Left ventricular hypertrophy changes both the structure and function of the chamber:

  • The enlarged muscle loses elasticity and stiffens, preventing the chamber from filling properly and leading to increased pressure in the heart.
  • The enlarged muscle tissue compresses its own blood vessels (coronary arteries) and may restrict its own supply of blood.
  • The overworked muscle weakens.

Complications that can occur as a result of these problems include:

  • Inability of your heart to pump enough blood to your body (heart failure)
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart(ischemic heart disease)
  • Interruption of blood supply to the heart (heart attack)
  • Sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness (sudden cardiac arrest)

The best way to help prevent left ventricular hypertrophy is to maintain healthy blood pressure. Here are a few tips to better manage your blood pressure:

  • Monitor high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, get a home blood pressure measuring device and check your blood pressure frequently. Schedule regular checkups with your doctor. The target for healthy blood pressure is less than 130/80 mm Hg.
  • Make time for exercise. Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure and keep it at normal levels. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.
  • Watch your diet. Avoid foods that are high in fat and salt, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Avoid alcoholic beverages or drink them in moderation.
  • Quit smoking if you're a smoker. Giving up smoking improves your blood pressure and overall health.
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