What is a left atrial enlargement?

The left atrium is one of four chambers in the heart and is located on the upper left-hand side. The lower chambers are known as ventricles.

The right side of the heart is responsible for pumping blood to the lungs to collect oxygen in a process called oxygenation, while the left side pumps blood to the rest of the body.

Several heart problems can cause the left atrium to swell. When this happens, it is called left atrial enlargement. It is linked to several conditions, including atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

In this article, learn about the causes and symptoms of left atrial enlargement, as well as the treatment options.

digital illustration of heartThe left atrium is located on the upper left-hand side of the heart.

Symptoms

Left atrial enlargement does not always cause symptoms, and someone may only discover it during a test for another problem.

In some cases, however, it can cause symptoms associated with other heart conditions. These symptoms include:

  • breathlessness or shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • rapid or irregular heartbeats (palpitations)
  • lack of appetite or nausea
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • fluid buildup and swelling
  • weight gain
  • chest pain
  • fainting

Causes

The size of the left atrium depends on the size of the individual and may change as a person ages.

Conditions that may cause left atrial enlargement include:

High blood pressure

doctor taking female patients blood pressure

Research has shown there is a link between high blood pressure and left atrial enlargement.

Left atrial enlargement can help doctors predict cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks.

Research has found a link between left atrial enlargement and both treated and untreated high blood pressure or hypertension.

Diagnosing left atrial enlargement can help doctors determine the risk of a heart attack in people with high blood pressure.

Problems with the mitral valve

Oxygenated blood passes through the mitral valve from the left atrium to the left ventricle. Problems with the mitral valve can lead to left atrial enlargement.

Possible conditions include:

  • Mitral stenosis, which is when the valve narrows and makes it difficult for blood to pass from the atrium to the ventricle.
  • Mitral regurgitation, which is when the blood leaks from the left ventricle back into the left atrium. In healthy people, the mitral valve only flows one way, passing from the atrium to the ventricle.

If mitral stenosis or regurgitation is severe, it may be difficult for the blood to pass to the ventricle. The left atrium will enlarge to compensate for the increased pressure it is under.

Left ventricle dysfunction

Problems with the left ventricle may mean it is unable to take the blood passed from the left atrium.

Again, the increased pressure that this creates in the left atrium can cause it to enlarge.

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