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The heart’s muscles or the muscle wall is called the myocardium, and if this wall becomes inflamed, the condition is known as myocarditis. There are many potential causal factors for the heart swelling, but the most common are viral infections. It used to be the case that the highest number of myocarditis cases resulted from rheumatic fever, a complication of infection with the strep virus. Today, treatment with antibiotics of most strep throat infections avoids the condition progressing to rheumatic fever and potential damage to the heart muscles.
There are many causes of myocarditis, and many of them aren’t precisely preventable. People can get this from complication from viruses, especially the coxsackievirus B, and from Epstein-Barr virus, fifth disease, measles, and HIV. Bacterial infection may also result in myocarditis, and those bacteria most commonly involved in the illness include staph bacteria, diphtheria bacteria, and the bacterium borne by Lyme disease infected ticks. Other things might result in this condition too, including exposure to certain chemicals or molds, fungal infection, and some autoimmune diseases like lupus.
The main symptoms of myocarditis include exhaustion, possibly fever, a more common symptoms in children, shortness of breath even when not exercising, and excruciating chest pain. People may also have an irregular heartbeat or incidences when the heart does not beat regularly (arrhythmia). Some people may have very mild cases, which don’t have many symptoms, and they may recover from myocarditis with realizing they’ve ever had it. Other times the symptoms, which may also include flu-like symptoms, are difficult to miss and dangerous to ignore. Any time this condition is suspected, people should alert their doctors to test for its presence because it can cause permanent heart damage.
Doctors will use a variety of methods to check for myocarditis, and common tests are x-rays or echocardiograms (sonogram of the heart) to assess heart function and look for enlargement. Blood tests could be used to confirm presence of viral or bacterial infection, and other scans or slightly more invasive procedures like cardiac catheterization might be required if heart function appears significantly affected.
Treatment will depend on severity of the condition and its cause. Cases caused by viruses may not require much treatment, and especially if the inflammation is mild, people may simply rest at home, and have further scans in the future to make certain that inflammation is resolving. If the disease is caused by bacterial infection, antibiotics might be useful. Though less common, some people with myocarditis will require hospitalization and heart medication to aid the heart in working while the myocardium remains inflamed. In very rare circumstances damage to the heart is so severe it necessitates corrective surgery or heart transplant.
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