Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. It is a rare condition that can be caused by any number of autoimmune diseases, viral, bacterial, or fungal infections, or parasites.

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. It is a rare condition that can be caused by any number of autoimmune diseases, viral, bacterial, or fungal infections, or parasites.

When you have an infection or an allergic reaction, your immune system attempts to fight off the intruders by releasing disease-fighting chemicals. If the infection affects your heart, these chemicals will enter the heart to fight the disease that exists there. However, the chemicals can damage the heart by inflaming and weakening it. This can lead to symptoms of heart failure.

Symptoms and Causes

The symptoms of myocarditis vary depending on the cause of the disease. Common symptoms include:

  • abnormal heartbeat
  • heart attack-like chest pain
  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms
  • joint pain and swelling
  • body ache
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath

Because myocarditis oftentimes looks much like a regular viral or bacterial infection, special tests are required to diagnose the disease. These may include:

  • blood culture for infection
  • blood tests for antibodies against the heart muscle
  • cardiac catheterization and heart muscle biopsy
  • chest x-ray
  • echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart)
  • electrocardiogram (EEG)
  • MRI
  • red blood cell count
  • white blood cell count

Myocarditis can be caused by several types of infections:

  • viral Infections including hepatitis C, herpes, HIV
  • bacterial infections including chlamydia, mycoplasma, staphylococcus, streptococcus
  • fungal infections including aspergillus, candida, coccidioides
  • parasites including trypanosoma cruzi, toxoplasma

Myocarditis can also be caused by a severe allergic reaction and certain diseases (rheumatoid arthritis and dermatomyositis) that cause inflammation throughout the entire body.

Treatment

Because myocarditis can be caused by a number of infectious agents, treatment very much depends on the precise cause. Treatment may include:

  • antibiotics
  • anti-inflammatory drugs (to reduce inflammation)
  • diuretics
  • low-salt diet
  • rest so your body can recover

If your case of myocarditis has affected your heartbeat, your doctor may hospitalize you or prescribe medication— such as ACE inhibitors or beta blockers—to reduce stress on your heart. In some severe cases, more aggressive treatment may be needed, including:

  • delivery of medication intravenously
  • increasing the oxygen content of your blood
  • intra-aortic pump balloon insertion
  • temporary artificial heart
  • emergency heart transplant

Most people fully recover from myocarditis; in some cases, however, the condition may result in irreversible damage to the heart causing chronic symptoms requiring lifelong medication.

Visit the Myocarditis Learning Center for more information.