Left ventricular hypertrophy is a condition where the muscle wall becomes thickened (hypertrophied). The left ventricle is the strongest and most muscular chamber of the heart, as it is responsible for pumping blood into the circulatory system. If it were compromised, as is the case of left ventricular hypertrophy, it will have significant negative effects on the entire body.
The heart is comprised of four different chambers and each one has a designated area that they supply blood to. The left ventricle does a lot of the work. This can be visually appreciated, as when you look at the heart, you’ll notice that the left ventricle is noticeably bigger than the neighboring heart chambers.
Conditions that require the heart to work harder cause the cardiac tissue to thicken and enlarge to compensate for the increased workload. It is an adaptive reaction to any factor that makes the heart work harder. While this may be acceptable for a while, prolonged instances cause heart muscles to lose their elasticity. This causes the heart to lose its ability to effectively pump blood, leading to a significant reduction in blood supply throughout the body. Left ventricular hypertrophy puts you at a higher risk for a heart attack and stroke.
There are several factors that can lead to the development of left ventricular hypertrophy. Most are due to problems related to obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle, but some causes are congenital (present at birth). The following are various causes of left ventricular hypertrophy:
High blood pressure (hypertension): By far the most common cause of left ventricular hypertrophy, as more than one-third of people with high blood pressure show evidence of the condition at the time of diagnosis. Having high blood pressure requires the heart to work harder to push against it.
Aortic valve stenosis: Each chamber of the heart has valves that control the flow of blood in and out of them. The left ventricle relies on the proper functioning of the aortic valve to allow blood to be released into the circulatory system. If the tissue of the aortic valve becomes stiff and rigid—resulting in a narrower opening—the left ventricle will have to work harder to pump blood through it.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: A genetic condition that commonly affects athletes and is characterized by the heart becoming abnormally thick, causing it to block blood flow. The heart has to work harder to overcome this, and it could result in instant death.
Athletic training: Strenuous or intense endurance and strength training can put increased stress on the heart muscles—this can normally be handled without worry. However, athletes who train excessively have an athlete-specific type of left ventricular hypertrophy that causes stiffening of the heart muscles and disease for unclear reasons.
Risk factors that contribute to the development of left ventricular hypertrophy are:
Having left ventricular hypertrophy changes the structure of the working heart and can lead to significant complications. These may include:
Thanks to the resilient nature of the heart, your left ventricle will be able to do its job adequately enough in the early stages of left ventricular hypertrophy. You probably won’t even notice anything is wrong. Changes to the heart muscles tend to be gradual—eventually, the heart will become thick and hard enough that symptoms are noticed.
Symptoms of left ventricular hypertrophy may include:
If you experience any combination of these symptoms, it is advised to see your doctor right away, especially if you experience the following:
When a heart condition like left ventricular hypertrophy is suspected, a full work up will be done—this includes a medical history and a physical exam. From there, your doctor will do some more tests. Additional tests for diagnosing left ventricular hypertrophy include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG): This test is used to measure electrical signals that are produced when the heart contracts. A normal pattern can be cross referenced to determine if the typical patterns of left ventricular hypertrophy are present.
Echocardiogram: The use of sound waves that produce real time images of the heart muscles. It can reveal thickened muscle tissue, how much blood flows through the heart with each beat, and other cardiac abnormalities.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A sensitive imaging device that allows for detailed images of the heart to be taken, revealing any abnormalities.
Treatment of left ventricular hypertrophy will depend on its cause. If high blood pressure is the culprit, the use of blood pressure medication along with lifestyle modifications will be recommended. What follows are some examples of commonly prescribed blood pressure medication.
Severe cases will require surgery to restore proper heart function. This may include aortic valve replacement or repair, or the implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator.
If left for too long, left ventricular hypertrophy can only be sufficiently treated under the care of a skilled cardiologist. However, before this happens, there are several things you can do the help lower your risk factors and prevent further cardiac muscle structure changes. The following are some changes you should make if you’re worried about your heart:
Similar to other diseases, prevention is the best form of treatment. Watching what you eat, making time to exercise, and quitting bad habits like smoking will give you the best chance of preventing heart problems.