With a heart muscle inflammation is not to be joked. Although the disease often goes unnoticed, it is often found in the autopsy of people with unexplained causes of death. No one knows exactly how often myocarditis actually occurs. The unknown number of unrecognized cases is estimated by experts to be enormously high. What are the causes of myocarditis? Generally, one has to distinguish two types of heart muscle inflammation:
- infectious myocarditis caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.
- non-infectious myocarditis, which may occur as a result of systemic illness or after radiation and taking drugs and medicines.
About 50 percent of all myocardial inflammations are caused by viruses, which damage the heart muscle in an initially harmless cold sickness. Coxsackie viruses are the trigger in 80% of cases, but other viral diseases such as diarrhea, bronchitis, flu, and measles can cause myocarditis. In addition, bacteria such as Borrelia and the pathogens of scarlet fever and diphtheria weaken cardiac function and subsequently the heart muscle.
How do I recognize the symptoms? Heart muscle inflammation can have very different symptoms, but in most cases, only mild or even no specific symptoms occur. An acute myocarditis usually indicates a rapidly progressing heart failure – the general condition of the affected person deteriorates severely. For example, tachycardia, cardiac arrhythmia, dyspnea, paleness and bluish coloration of the lips, as well as pain in the chest area (behind the breastbone) arise. Other side effects include fluid retention in the legs, as well as enlargement and swelling of the liver and spleen. In the chronic stage the following symptoms are typical: general weakness, tiredness, body aches, weight loss, appetite disorder and the reduction of the general performance. Patients have exhaustion and congestion already at low load such as climbing stairs, walking or cleaning. After a flu, respiratory infections, diarrhea or other viral disease, the heart problems usually only become noticeable after one to two weeks. How to treat myocarditis If bacteria are the cause, therapy with antibiotics prescribed by the doctor is recommended. For non-infectious myocarditis, treatment with cortisone may be useful. The problem is a viral myocarditis, the most common form, since there is hardly any targeted therapy, but by other methods in consultation with medical specialists must be cured. Above all, it is important to maintain strict bed rest in the first few weeks, and even after the acute phase, physical care must be a top priority in every situation. For as long as the symptoms, ECG changes and physical limitations have completely disappeared. If the heart is so severely damaged by the inflammation that a chronic heart failure follows, a longer intensified drug treatment is necessary. In worse cases, a puncture of the muscle and suction of the accumulated fluid in the heart as well as a transplantation can be the result. What can I do to prevent it? A viral infection is almost impossible to avoid. But what you can actually prevent is the spread of the pathogens on the heart muscle. Therefore, with every infection, with or without a fever, you should refrain from any physical exertion. Sport is of course taboo! Everybody can and should vaccinate against diphtheria, since this disease causes other complications besides myocarditis.