Myocarditis is an inflammation of the myocardium, the middle layer of the heart wall. A variety of signs and symptoms, including chest pain, heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms, can be caused by myocarditis.
If myocarditis becomes severe, the pumping action of your heart weakens, and your heart won't be able to supply the rest of your body with enough blood. Clots also could form in your heart, leading to a stroke or heart attack.
Myocarditis is usually caused by a viral infection. Treatment for myocarditis depends on the underlying cause.
The signs and symptoms of myocarditis vary, depending on the cause and the severity of the disease. Common myocarditis symptoms include:
In mild cases, myocarditis may have no noticeable symptoms. You may feel ill and have general symptoms of a viral infection and never realize your heart is affected.
Myocarditis in children
When to see a doctor
Often, the exact cause of an individual case of myocarditis isn't identified. However, there are numerous potential causes of myocarditis, such as:
Myocarditis also sometimes occurs if you're exposed to:
When myocarditis is severe, it can permanently damage your heart muscle. This damage may cause:
In very severe cases, myocarditis-related heart failure requires an artificial heart or heart transplant.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor, or in the case of severe symptoms, an emergency room doctor. You may then be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating disorders of the heart (cardiologist) and possibly an infectious disease specialist.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what you might expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions can help you ensure you cover all of the points that are important to you. For myocarditis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
If your doctor suspects myocarditis, he or she may also order one or more tests in addition to asking you questions and examining you to make a diagnosis of myocarditis and determine the severity of your condition, including:
Treatments and drugs
In many cases, the swelling that causes myocarditis improves, either on its own or with treatment, leading to a complete recovery. Myocarditis treatment focuses on treating the underlying cause.
Treating mild cases
Certain rare types of viral myocarditis, such as giant cell and eosinophilic myocarditis, respond to corticosteroids or other medications to suppress the immune system response. In some cases caused by chronic illnesses, such as lupus, the treatment is directed at the underlying disease.
Drugs to help your heart
Treating severe cases
In the most severe cases, doctors may consider urgent heart transplantation.
Some people may have chronic and irreversible damage to the heart muscle requiring lifelong medications, while other people need medications for just a few months and then recover completely.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Rest and reducing the workload on your heart is an important part of recovery. Your doctor will likely tell you to avoid exercise and exertion for several months while your heart heals. Ask your doctor when you can resume normal activities.
If you have any lingering heart damage, it's also important to consume a low-salt diet, restrict the amount of fluids you drink and avoid smoking. Your doctor will let you know what your fluid intake should be, as well as the amount of salt that's OK for you to eat.
There's no specific prevention for myocarditis. However, taking the following steps to prevent infections may help.
Last Updated: 2010-03-16
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