Heart muscle inflammation, known in medical terms as myocarditis, is an inflammation of the heart muscle. It is most commonly caused by viruses. Bacteria and fungi, along with rheumatic diseases, radiotherapy or certain medications can also cause myocarditis.

Myocarditis can occur in an acute form or proceed chronically. It is primarily caused by viruses. There are no specific viruses which affect the heart muscle in particular. Instead, virtually every viral infection – influenza viruses, herpes viruses or other viral infections – can cause myocarditis. Less common are bacteria or fungi responsible for infectious myocarditis. Besides infectious myocarditis, there is also non-infectious myocarditis. It can be caused by an excessive immune reaction, rheumatic disease, radiotherapy or by chemotherapy, for example.

The symptoms of myocarditis can vary considerably. There are cases which go practically unnoticed. The symptoms are often rather unspecific and similar to the symptoms of a general cold or influenza. However, acute myocarditis can also cause severe symptoms and lead to cardiac insufficiency. In such cases, shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid heartbeat and cardiac arrhythmia may occur. Chronic myocarditis manifests itself in fatigue, exhaustion and general reduction in performance. Pain in the extremities may sometimes occur.

Different examinations are undertaken to diagnose myocarditis. Besides auscultation of the heart, the usual assessments include blood tests and an ECG echocardiography.

The most important treatment measure is the strict avoidance of physical exertion. This also includes avoiding minor stress in your daily life. The inflamed heart muscle must be rested until the inflammation has eased completely. This can potentially take several seeks. If the myocarditis is caused by bacteria, antibiotics are also prescribed.

Sometimes there are exceptions which cause severe damage to the heart muscle and make a heart transplant necessary.

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