Myocarditis is an inflammatory disease of the heart muscle (myocardium) that can result from a variety of causes. While most cases are produced by a viral infection, an inflammation of the heart muscle may also be instigated by toxins, drugs, and hypersensitive immune reactions. Myocarditis is a rare but serious condition that affects both males and females of any age.
Most cases of myocarditis in the United States originate from a virus, and the disease may remain undiagnosed by doctors due to its general lack of initial symptoms. The disease may also present itself as an acute, catastrophic illness that requires immediate treatment. Although the inflammation or degeneration of the heart muscle that myocarditis causes may be fatal, this disease often goes undetected. It may also disguise itself as ischemic, valvular, or hypertensive heart disease.
An inflammation of the heart muscle may occur as an isolated disorder or be the dominating feature of a systemic disease (one that affects the whole body, like systemic lupus erythematosus).
Causes and symptoms
While there are several contributing factors that may lead to myocarditis, the primary cause is viral. Myocarditis usually results from the Coxsackie B virus, and may also result from measles, influenza, chicken pox, hepatitis virus, or the adenovirus in children. If an acute onset of severe myocarditis occurs, a patient may display the following symptoms:
Further studies conducted in 1996 indicate that malnutrition encourages the Coxsackie B virus to flourish, leading to the potential development of myocarditis. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is also now recognized as a cause of myocarditis, though its prevalence is not known.
Symptoms of myocarditis may start as fatigue, shortness of breath, fever and aching of the joints, all characteristic of a flu-like illness. In contrast to this type of mild appearance, myocarditis may also appear suddenly in the form of heart failure, or sudden cardiac death without any prior symptoms. If an inflammation of the heart muscle leads to congestive heart failure, symptoms such as swollen feet and ankles, distended neck veins, a rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing while reclining may all appear.
Beth A. Kapes, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,