Heart Muscle Inflammation (Myocarditis)

What is myocarditis?

Myocarditis is an inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the heart muscle. The inflammation may damage the heart muscle. A damaged heart may be weak and may not pump blood as well as it should. It may pump at a different speed, pump blood with less force, or pump less blood with each heartbeat. When less blood is flowing out of the heart to the body, muscles and other tissues may not get enough oxygen.

What is the cause?

Many things can cause myocarditis, including:

  • Infection caused by viruses, bacteria, fungus, or parasites
  • Reactions to some medicines
  • Exposure to some chemicals, such as lead, arsenic, and carbon monoxide
  • An autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, which causes your body to attack your own tissue

The cause of the inflammation is not always known.

What are the symptoms?

Sometimes there are no symptoms. When you have symptoms, they may include:

  • Running out of energy easily
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Swollen ankles and feet and weight gain caused by too much fluid in the body

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:

  • Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves (ultrasound) to see how well your heart is pumping
  • Blood tests
  • ECG (also called an EKG or electrocardiogram), which measures and records your heartbeat
  • Chest X-ray
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the heart
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the heart
  • Heart catheterization, which uses a small tube called a catheter inserted into a blood vessel, dye, and X-rays to look at your coronary arteries and heart and see how well the heart is pumping. A biopsy may be taken to help make a diagnosis. A biopsy is the removal of a small sample of tissue for testing.

How is it treated?

Treatment may include:

  • Pain relievers
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Heart medicines to control your heartbeat and help your heart pump

If myocarditis is caused by a disease, treating the disease will also treat the heart. For example, if myocarditis is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotic medicines will be prescribed.

Sometimes myocarditis causes lifelong damage to the heart muscle. Medicines used for heart failure can help the damaged heart pump better. In severe cases, a device called an intraaortic balloon pump is used to help the heart pump. A heart transplant may be an option if you have severe symptoms that are not getting better with medicines.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Talk to your provider before you use any medicines that your provider has not prescribed, including nonprescription medicines and supplements.
  • Limit the salt in your diet if recommended by your provider.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-18
Last reviewed: 2014-08-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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