Left ventricular atrophy (LAT) is a reduction in size of the left ventricle of the heart, the chamber of the heart responsible for pumping freshly oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. People with this condition can experience a number of health complications, and there are treatments available to arrest or reverse the atrophy. A cardiologist usually needs to supervise care for a patient with left ventricular atrophy, including regular followups to see how well a patient responds to treatment.
The heart is a muscle, and like other muscles, it can experience atrophy due to factors like disease or lack of use. Patients with certain chronic illnesses can be at risk of LAT, as can people on bed rest. Less active patients don't use their hearts as much, and the muscle can start to grow weak. Spinal cord injuries and paralysis are associated with left ventricular atrophy, as is spaceflight.
The decrease in the ventricle's size forces the remaining muscle to work harder. It may be less efficient, and patients can start to notice circulatory symptoms like bluing of the fingers and toes because they are not getting enough oxygen. The drop in oxygenated blood can also damage organs like the brain, which rely on a steady supply of oxygen for cellular functions. Patients might experience fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty engaging in physical activities because of their weakened hearts.
It is also common to see cardiac arrhythmias with left ventricular atrophy. A doctor can read an electrocardiogram to determine the nature and source of the arrhythmia. Medical imaging to visualize the heart can also be useful, and may provide important information about how much of the muscle has wasted away due to disease or lack of use. If available, a doctor will look at older scans and measures of heart function to identify signs of changes, using those scans as a baseline for the patient's heart health.
Treatment for left ventricular atrophy usually involves cardiac exercise to get the heart working and rebuild muscle. This may require working with a physical therapist to devise a safe and comfortable exercise regimen for the patient. For people with significant mobility impairments, it is important to balance the patient's safety with the need to exercise the heart. Astronauts usually need to follow strict physical fitness guidelines both on the ground and while on missions to protect their bodies from atrophy and other complications of a weightless environment.