Myocarditis

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is myocarditis?

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium). The inflammation of the heart muscle causes degeneration or death of heart muscle cells. Myocarditis has many different causes and can result in a range of outcomes from mild (presenting briefly and resolving) to rapidly progressing fatal disease. Myocarditis is differentiated from pericarditis because pericarditis is inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart and does not involve heart muscle like myocarditis. However, it is not unusual to have a patient present with both pericarditis and myocarditis.

There are many different types of myocarditis and a wide range of possible agents that can trigger the disease. Examples include:

  • Viral: Coxsackie B virus, enterovirus, adenovirus, influenza, and many others
  • Bacterial: Streptococci, meningococci, clostridia, Corynebacterium, mycobacteria, and many others
  • Fungal and parasites: Candida, aspergillosis, Cryptococcus, schistosomes, filaria, malaria, toxoplasma, and many others
  • Lymphocytic: Heart muscle infiltrated with lymphocytes
  • Eosinophilic: Heart muscle infiltrated with eosinophils
  • Autoimmune: Caused by autoimmune diseases, such as lupus
  • Fulminant: Inflammatory process in the heart muscle that leads to acute severe heart failure
  • Idiopathic: Inflammatory process in the heart muscle with no known cause
  • Acute: Symptoms appear rapidly and usually decrease after week or two
  • Chronic: Slow appearance of symptoms that last greater than two weeks

What causes myocarditis?

The causative agents that damage myocardium include the following:

  • Cytotoxic effects of infecting agents like viruses, bacteria fungi, and/or parasites
  • Immune response triggered by infecting agents and cytokines produced in the myocardium in response to infection or inflammation
  • Chemicals released during myocardial cell death
  • Autoimmune responses can also trigger myocardial inflammation
  • Some medications and/or toxins such as clozapine, radiation therapy, arsenic, carbon monoxide, and many others
  • Certain diseases like lupus, Wegener's granulomatosis, and others

About half of the time, the triggering agent for myocardial inflammation is not known (idiopathic). This is especially true in pediatric population where about 82% of patients are diagnosed with idiopathic myocarditis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/23/2015
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