What is heart inflammation?
Heart inflammation is how your heart reacts when it’s hurt or infected. For some people, heart inflammation happens without warning. For others, it takes longer. Some people have bad symptoms, while others barely have any symptoms. The degree of inflammation can also vary between people depending on individual factors and causes.
You can separate heart inflammation into three different areas of your heart.
Types of heart inflammation
- Endocarditis affects the lining in the heart chambers your blood goes through and the valves that control blood flow from one chamber to another.
- Myocarditis affects the muscle that makes your heart pump.
- Pericarditis affects the sac around the outside of your heart.
Who does heart inflammation affect?
All three types of heart inflammation are rare. People in any age group can get heart inflammation, but it’s more common in men. Certain medical issues put you at a higher risk of heart inflammation. These include:
Medical treatments can increase your risk of heart inflammation, too. These include:
- Procedures that require a catheter in your vein.
- Radiation therapy for cancer.
- Heart devices like pacemakers or replacement valves.
- After open-heart surgery.
How does heart inflammation affect my body?
Heart inflammation causes different problems depending on where it happens.
- Endocarditis: Bacteria infects the lining of your heart valves. It can go to other parts of your body, infecting those areas, too.
- Myocarditis: When your heart muscle is inflamed, it has a more difficult time pumping blood.
- Pericarditis: Your pericardium’s two layers get thicker and brush against each other and your heart muscle.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms for all three types of heart inflammation include:
- Chest pain.
- Shortness of breath.
Other symptoms are more specific to the type of heart inflammation you have.
Endocarditis symptoms include:
- Pain in your belly.
- Blood in your pee.
- Night sweats.
Myocarditis symptoms include:
- Swelling in your legs or feet.
- Heart palpitations.
- Extreme tiredness.
Pericarditis symptoms include:
- Fast heartbeat.
- Chest pain that gets better when you sit up and lean forward.
When a virus is to blame for your heart inflammation, you can have symptoms from the virus first, such as:
- Runny nose.
- Stomach issues.
What causes heart inflammation?
Infections — usually from viruses or bacteria — cause most cases of heart inflammation. Other causes include:
- Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Things in your environment, such as lead.
- Medicines such as those for depression, seizures or weight loss.
Few young adults have reported getting myocarditis or pericarditis after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. However, most recovered well after treatment with medicine.
Is heart inflammation serious?
Yes, some complications of heart inflammation are serious and can be life-limiting. Without treatment, heart inflammation can cause:
- Blood clots.
- Heart failure.
- Abnormal heart rhythms.
- Worse infections that can spread throughout your body (from endocarditis).
- Lung problems (from myocarditis).
- Too much fluid building up around your heart (from pericarditis).
However, if you have a mild case of pericarditis or myocarditis, it can go away on its own.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is heart inflammation diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will use the following to decide if you have heart inflammation:
- Physical exam.
- Your medical history.
- Blood tests and other tests.
What tests will be done to diagnose heart inflammation?
Your healthcare provider may do tests to help them:
- Rule out a heart attack.
- Look for fluid around your heart.
- Look at how well your heart is functioning and see if there’s abnormal function.
- Cardiac computed tomography (CT).
- Electrocardiogram (EKG).
- Cardiac MRI.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
Management and Treatment
How is heart inflammation treated?
Medications can help you fight infections and keep your immune system and heart from working too hard. If you have more serious complications, you may need procedures or medical devices.
What medications are used?
Medicines for heart inflammation may vary depending on which part of your heart is inflamed. Medications you take may include:
- Antifungal drugs.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Heart failure medicines.
- Blood thinners.
Side effects of the treatment
Depending on which medicine you’re taking, side effects may include:
Your healthcare provider may need to drain extra fluid from your pericardium (pericardial effusion) or do surgery to remove damaged heart tissue. If myocarditis leads to heart failure, you may need a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) or even a heart transplant. If myocarditis gives you abnormal heart rhythms that don’t get better with medicine, you may need a pacemaker.
How can I reduce my risk?
Although you can’t change your age or the medical conditions you have that put you at risk for heart inflammation, there are a few things you can control, including:
- Don’t drink too much alcohol.
- Don’t use recreational drugs.
- Take good care of your teeth.
- Keep your skin clean to prevent infections.
How can I prevent heart inflammation?
If you’re at high risk for endocarditis, your healthcare provider can prescribe antibiotics. You take these before going to the dentist or having surgery. You’re high risk if you’ve had endocarditis before, had a valve replaced or have had a specific heart issue since birth.
You can get heart inflammation more than once, so be on the lookout for symptoms.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have heart inflammation?
It can take several weeks or years to recover from some types of heart inflammation.
Endocarditis is fatal without treatment, but most people who get antibiotics survive endocarditis.
Pericarditis can be mild, life-threatening or somewhere in between. The prognosis is good when you get treatment quickly. You don’t even need treatment for a mild case.
Myocarditis may give some people no issues after treatment, while others continue to need medicine. Some people may need a heart transplant at some point.
How do I take care of myself?
Continue to take all the medicines your healthcare provider prescribed. Keep going to your follow-up appointments, which may include repeat blood tests or imaging.
When should I seek care?
Contact your healthcare provider if you get any new symptoms while you’re recovering.
When should I go to the ER?
Since chest pain is a common symptom of heart inflammation and heart attack, you may not know which one is happening. To be safe, call 911 if you’re having chest pains.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- Which type of heart inflammation do I have?
- Do you know what caused it?
- Which treatment is best for me?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you think you have heart inflammation, don’t wait to get help. You’ll have the best outcome if you catch heart inflammation early. Once you see your healthcare provider, be sure to follow their instructions for taking medicines they prescribed. You’ll also need follow-up appointments throughout your recovery, which can take weeks. Remember the symptoms you had, as it’s possible to get heart inflammation again in the future.
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