Inflammatory Heart Disease and Myocarditis Treatment
Specialists at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute provide the highest quality of care for patients with inflammatory heart disease to fight the underlying infection, restore healthy heart rhythm, relieve symptoms and effectively reduce long-term heart damage.
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What is Heart Inflammation?
Inflammation is your body’s response to infection or injury. It can affect many areas of the body and is a cause of many major diseases including cancer, ischemic heart disease and autoimmune conditions.
When irritants such as bacteria, a chemical or virus reach your heart muscle, you may experience inflammation of the heart, or a heart infection. Such an infection can cause damage to or inflammation of the lining of the heart, valves, outer membrane or the heart muscle itself.
Types of Heart Infections
There are three primary types of heart infections:
Endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s inner lining or valves. It typically occurs when germs travel through your bloodstream to your heart and attach to damaged heart tissue. Endocarditis must be treated immediately so that it doesn’t turn into a fatal condition.
Myocarditis is caused by a viral infection (one example being COVID-19) or autoimmune response and leads to inflammation and damage of the heart muscle. This inflammation enlarges and weakens the heart, creates scar tissue and forces the heart to work harder to circulate blood and oxygen through the body. While cardiovascular conditions are often associated with elderly populations, myocarditis can affect anyone, including young adults, children and infants.
Pericarditis is the inflammation of the fibrous sac surrounding the heart known as the pericardium. This heart infection can arise after a heart attack or heart surgery, or because of an inflammatory autoimmune condition such as arthritis.
Heart Inflammation Symptoms
Symptoms you may experience depend on the type of heart infection, and include:
- Shortness of breath, especially after exercise or when lying down
- Chest pain or pressure
- Unusual fatigue
- Heart palpitations
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Swelling in the hands, legs, ankles and feet
- Red spots under the fingernails
- Purple or red spots on the skin
- Sudden loss of consciousness
Diagnosing Heart Inflammation
Advanced heart imaging techniques help your doctor determine the location, cause and type of heart infection.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
Using electrodes taped to the skin, electrical activity is recorded as waves that represent electrical forces in the heart
- Chest X-ray
Produces an image on film that outlines the shape and size of the heart, lungs and other structures in the chest
- Echocardiogram (echo)
Sound waves sent into the body from a small device reflect back from internal structures and return to device, producing images of the heart
- Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
Creates images of the heart using a magnetic field and radio waves
- Heart biopsy
Done through a catheter threaded into the heart to remove a small piece of heart muscle for examination
Heart Inflammation Treatment Options
The type of heart infection you have as well as its cause will help guide how our heart specialists determine treatment.
Antibiotics, heart medications, corticosteroids and drugs that reduce inflammation can usually treat and resolve minor inflammatory heart disease. However, if your case is more serious, advanced treatments may be recommended, such as:
- Heart rhythm devices
An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator or advanced technology pacemaker can be inserted into your heart to help strengthen its function.
This procedure uses a needle to remove excess fluid from the pericardium. It may be an option if you have severe pericarditis and an excessive amount of fluid buildup around your heart.
- Intra-aortic balloon pump
A thin tube (catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel in the leg and guided to the heart using X-ray imaging. A balloon attached to the end of the catheter inflates and deflates in the main artery leading out to the body from the heart (aorta). An intra-aortic pump increases blood flow and decreases strain on the heart.
- Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)
A machine that mimics the function of the lungs and takes over the work of the heart while it heals. During ECMO, blood is removed from the body, passes through the machine to remove carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the blood before returning it to the body. This treatment may be used to allow the heart to recover or while waiting for other treatments, such as a heart transplant.
- Ventricular assist device (VAD)
A device used in people with weakened hearts or heart failure to help pump blood from the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) to the rest of the body. A VAD may be used to allow heart to recover or while waiting for other treatments, such as a heart transplant.
- Heart transplant
For some with very severe heart damage that cannot be reversed, heart transplantation may be a viable treatment option.
Heart inflammation and COVID-19
COVID-19 is known to cause cardiovascular problems in some patients, one of which is myocarditis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research shows patients with COVID-19 have nearly 16 times the risk of myocarditis compared to patients without COVID-19.
Myocarditis related to COVID-19 is most common in young men and teenage boys. The vast majority of these myocarditis cases are asymptomatic or mild, and patients recover without treatment.
Myocarditis related to the COVID-19 vaccine is an extremely rare side effect – an incidence of about 2 in 100,000 people, according to studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The benefit of vaccination vastly outweighs the risk of heart inflammation.
Preventing Heart Inflammation
There are certain lifestyle choices that can help you prevent inflammatory heart disease and the risks of heart damage associated with it:
- Follow good hygiene
- Stay current on vaccines
- Treat chest infections such as pneumonia promptly
- Get evaluated by a doctor for autoimmune conditions
UH Health Talk: Inflammatory Heart Disease
In this webinar, UH cardiologist Sadeer Al-Kindi, MD, shares information on heart inflammation, including risk factors, symptoms, treatment options and prevention.
Find a Doctor
Meet the UH heart and vascular experts who treat myocarditis and other inflammatory heart disease conditions.