The death of actor Jansen Panettiere, brother of Hayden Panettiere, 28, who was found dead on February 19, has left the family in turmoil.
Hayden and her parents, Skip Panettiere and Lesley Vogel, released a statement that read, in part: “Sadly, we share the great loss of our beautiful Jansen. Passing was due to cardiomegaly (enlarged heart), with aortic valve problems.”
Also, the development of depression has put a spotlight on Jansen’s condition – which affects many others, as Dr. Jeffrey Teuteberg, a cardiologist at Stanford Health Care who was not involved in Panettiere’s treatment, explained to Yahoo .
“There are millions of Americans who have some degree of cardiomegaly,” he said, noting that it is more common for someone who is, he said, 58, than Panettiere’s age.
What is cardiomegaly?
Dr. Shriprasad R. Deshpande of the American Heart Association, medical director of Cardiology and Developmental Cardiology at Children’s Hospital, who is also not part of Panettiere’s medical team, gave the definition: “Cardiomegaly is enlargement of the chambers of the heart, and especially the pumping area (ventricle) of the heart, this often leads to an ineffective heartbeat and eventually can lead to heart failure.”
One of the causes may be valve leaks, although it is not known whether this is the case here.
As Teuteberg told us, “When the valves are too large or too tight, that can affect the heart’s function over time and the heart can grow larger as a result.”
What are the symptoms?
As the heart gets older and weaker, people can find themselves feeling tired and fatigued.
“There may be reduced exercise capacity, they may have a faster heart rate, and sometimes they may experience syncope (blackout/passing out),” Deshpande said. “In children, the only symptoms can be breathing problems and abdominal pain or lack of appetite. The most important symptom is cardiac arrest, which can lead to sudden death.”
But it’s tricky, because cardiomegaly often looks like other conditions, like asthma. The symptom may be something subtle such as loss of appetite or stomach pain after eating.
And Teuteberg warns that young people who don’t have other health problems may notice that they can’t ride their bikes like they used to or play basketball for long periods of time. But it should.
“Sometimes people will have things like swelling in their stomach or swelling in their legs, when it lasts and it gets a little worse,” Teuteberg said. “Sometimes people can have heart palpitations or feel their emotions pounding, because heart arrhythmia is more common in people with weak heart muscle.”
How is cardiomegaly diagnosed?
Don’t panic, though, because none of these symptoms mean that you have a heart condition. You only need to be checked if you notice something off, or if cardiomegaly runs in the family. (Deshpande notes that these patients are most often diagnosed in the first two years of life.)
Your doctor can examine you with an electrocardiogram and, if needed, use an echocardigram (ultrasound of the heart), which is used to diagnose the condition.
Can cardiomegaly be treated?
Yes, and treatments can be very different. Patients can often control heart failure or irregular heartbeats with medication. In cases of severe valve prolapse, Deshpande says valve surgery or valve replacement can help.
“If there is a severe enlargement of the heart,” he said, “a heart transplant may be the best option. Sometimes if the enlargement is severe, we can use a small mechanical pump to stabilize the person to adjust to the transplant.”
In addition, both doctors advise patients to visit their doctor with concerns.
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