Overview

Left ventricular hypertrophy is enlargement and thickening (hypertrophy) of the walls of your heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle).

Left ventricular hypertrophy can develop in response to some factor — such as high blood pressure or a heart condition — that causes the left ventricle to work harder. As the workload increases, the muscle tissue in the chamber wall thickens, and sometimes the size of the chamber itself also increases. The enlarged heart muscle loses elasticity and eventually may fail to pump with as much force as needed.

Left ventricular hypertrophy is more common in people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure. But no matter what your blood pressure is, developing left ventricular hypertrophy puts you at higher risk of a heart attack and stroke.

Treating high blood pressure can help ease your symptoms and may reverse left ventricular hypertrophy.

Symptoms

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, you may experience:

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

When to see a doctor

Seek emergency care if:

  • You feel chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes
  • You have severe difficulty breathing
  • You have severe lightheadedness or lose consciousness

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, your doctor is likely to recommend 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
  • Have other conditions that increase the risk of high blood pressure

Causes

Left ventricular hypertrophy can occur when some factor makes your heart work harder than normal to pump blood to your body.

Factors that can cause your heart to work harder include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension). This is the most common cause of left ventricular hypertrophy. More than one-third of people show evidence of left ventricular hypertrophy at the time of their diagnosis with hypertension.
  • Aortic valve stenosis. This disease is a narrowing of the aortic valve that separates the left ventricle from the large blood vessel leaving your heart (aorta). The narrowing of the aortic valve requires the left ventricle to work harder to pump blood into the aorta.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This genetic disease occurs when the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, even with completely normal blood pressure, making it harder for the heart to pump blood.
  • Athletic training. Intense, prolonged endurance and strength training can cause the heart to adapt to handle the extra workload. It's unclear whether this athletic type of left ventricle hypertrophy can lead to stiffening of the heart muscle and disease.

Risk factors

In addition to hypertension and aortic valve stenosis, factors that increase your risk of left ventricular hypertrophy include:

  • Age. Left ventricular hypertrophy is more common in older people.
  • Weight. Being overweight increases your risk of high blood pressure and left ventricular hypertrophy.
  • Family history. Certain genetic conditions are associated with developing left ventricular hypertrophy.
  • Diabetes. Left ventricular hypertrophy has been found to be linked to a higher risk of diabetes.
  • Race. African-Americans are at higher risk of left ventricular hypertrophy than are white people with similar blood pressure measurements.
  • Sex. Women with hypertension are at higher risk of left ventricular hypertrophy than are men with similar blood pressure measurements.

Complications

Left ventricular hypertrophy changes the structure and working of the heart. The enlarged left ventricle can:

  • Weaken
  • Stiffen and lose elasticity, preventing the chamber from filling properly and increasing pressure in the heart
  • Compress the chamber's blood vessels (coronary arteries) and restrict its supply of blood

As a result of these changes, complications of left ventricular hypertrophy include:

  • Reduced blood supply to the heart
  • Inability of the heart to pump enough blood to your body (heart failure)
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Irregular, often rapid heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) that decreases blood flow to the body
  • Insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart (ischemic heart disease)
  • Stroke
  • Sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness (sudden cardiac arrest)

Prevention

The best way to prevent left ventricular hypertrophy caused by high blood pressure is to maintain healthy blood pressure. To better manage your blood pressure:

  • Monitor high blood pressure. Purchase a home blood pressure measuring device and check your blood pressure frequently. Schedule regular checkups with your doctor.
  • Make time for physical activity. Regular physical activity helps to lower blood pressure and keep it at normal levels. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat and salt, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Avoid alcoholic beverages or drink them in moderation.
  • Quit smoking. Giving up smoking improves your overall health and prevents heart attacks.