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What is cardiomegaly, the condition that killed Hayden Panettiere’s brother?

by Tribune News Service | March 7, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Hayden Panettiere, left, and Jansen Panettiere arrive at a screening of Freestyle Releasing's "Sharkwater Extinction" at the ArcLight Hollywood on Jan. 31, 2019, in Hollywood, Calif. (Amanda Edwards/Getty Images/TNS)

The recent death of actor Jansen Panettiere -- brother of "Heroes" star Hayden Panettiere -- has put the spotlight on a surprisingly common condition, cardiomegaly.

"It is with great sorrow we share the tremendous, untimely loss of our beautiful Jansen," the Panettiere family wrote, announcing the cause of Jansen's death. "Though it offers little solace, the Medical Examiner reported Jansen's sudden passing was due to cardiomegaly (enlarged heart), coupled with aortic valve complications."

Simply put, cardiomegaly means an enlarged heart. Cardiomegaly is not a disease, but it is a heart condition that could lead to or be caused by other health issues. And the most common cause of the condition, coronary artery disease, effects around 18 million people in the U.S.

Heart-related deaths are the number one killer worldwide for both men and women. Heart conditions don't discriminate by sex, age or gender.

To determine if someone has an enlarged heart, the patient must undergo an x-ray and other tests. Symptoms of the condition include:

Shortness of breath.

Chest pain.

Heart palpitations (rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeat).

Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).



Rapid exhaustion with physical activity.


According to the Mayo Clinic, conditions that are linked to cardiomegaly include:

Heart conditions present at birth (congenital heart defects).

Damage from a heart attack.

Diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).

Fluid buildup in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion).

Heart valve disease.

High blood pressure (hypertension).

High blood pressure in the arteries in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension).

Low red blood cell count (anemia).

Thyroid disorders.

Too much iron in the body (hemochromatosis).

Unusual protein deposits in the heart (cardiac amyloidosis).

Fat around the heart.

Individuals with high blood pressure, previous heart diseases, a family history of heart issues, an HIV infection, and thyroid or kidney disease are most at risk of an enlarged heart.

The Mayo Clinic suggests seeing a doctor if you experience chest pain, severe shortness of breath, fainting, discomfort in the upper body, arms, back, neck, jaw and/or stomach.

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