What is Heart Inflammation?

Nicole Long

The medical term for heart inflammation is myocarditis. Infection, immune disease, and bacteria are just a few of the causes of myocarditis, and viral infection is the most common cause. Symptoms of heart inflammation include chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and heart rhythm irregularities.

A doctor may order a chest x-ray to diagnose heart inflammation causes.
A doctor may order a chest x-ray to diagnose heart inflammation causes.

During a viral infection, the heart muscle can swell due to the virus reaching the heart muscle. Though the initial infection may clear, inflammation of the heart can still be present. Viruses that may cause heart inflammation include the common cold virus, measles, and gastrointestinal viruses.

Viruses that reach an otherwise normal heart can cause it to swell.
Viruses that reach an otherwise normal heart can cause it to swell.

Bacterial infections that can cause heart inflammation include streptococcus and staphylococcus. Candida, responsible for yeast infections, and molds can also cause myocarditis. Other possible causes include lupus, Lyme disease and allergic reactions to medications such as penicillin.

At first there may be no signs or symptoms of heart inflammation. As inflammation progresses, the patient may notice chest pain. Other initial signs may include an abnormal heartbeat and symptoms associated with a viral infection such as fever, joint pain, and body aches.

If myocarditis becomes severe, additional symptoms may arise. This can include swelling of the legs and feet, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Patients with illness or infection demonstrating any of these signs, especially shortness of breath, need to seek immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis of myocarditis is done through careful examination and testing by a physician. Tests can include an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, and chest x-ray. In addition, blood tests may be done to identify viruses and enzymes that may be indicative of heart damage.

Mild heart inflammation will be treated with rest and medications to fight the infection, such as antibiotics. If the symptoms are related to an underlying disease, treatment will focus on treating the disease itself. Limitations on work and exercise may also be ordered by a physician.

Some cases of myocarditis may become severe and require hospitalization. While hospitalized, patients may receive medications meant to improve heart function, such as beta blockers and diuretics. In extreme cases, a temporary artificial heart or aortic pump may be implanted until the heart begins to recover.

Severe myocarditis can be life-threatening if not treated. Possible complications of myocarditis include blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Heart failure can occur suddenly and result in death. Follow-up will be required to ascertain the amount of damage caused by myocarditis. Outlook depends on how soon help is sought and adherence to physician orders.

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Discussion Comments


@burcidi-- If you have viral myocarditis, caused by a viral infection, antibiotics won't help.

If you were sent home that easily, you must have a mild case of heart inflammation. Severe cases usually require a hospital stay or require frequent check-ups to make sure there aren't complications.

Also, there are different types of heart inflammation. When you have this condition, it doesn't meant that the entire heart is inflamed, it could just be the outer sac or a certain part that's inflamed.


I had chest pain last weekend and had an EKG at the emergency. They said it was heart inflammation and told me to take anti-inflammatory medication until the symptoms went away. I wasn't given antibiotics or anything, is this normal?


My brother was sick about five months ago. He had fever and fatigue for several weeks but since he was traveling, he didn't get proper treatment. He saw a doctor where he was who just prescribed him some antibiotics.

After he returned to the US, his fever returned, along with chest pain and difficulty breathing. He was hospitalized and he had to get an angiography to make sure he was not having a heart attack. The angiography came back clear and after a few more tests, he was diagnosed with myocarditis.

It took several days for them to figure out what virus had caused the inflammation around the heart. It turned out to be the Epston-Barr virus, the one that causes mononucleosis.

It's been four months since his diagnosis, and most of his symptoms are gone but he's still on high blood pressure medication.

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