Myocarditis is described as a silent killer due to the lack of symptoms which accompany the disease and the rapid nature in which it takes control of the body. Caused by inflammation and damage to the heart muscle, myocarditis is typically caused by a viral infection, however can result from other illnesses.
In the United States, approximately 5 to 20 percent of all cases of sudden death are attributed to myocarditis, and this is particularly true in young adults. The disease does not discriminate against who it attacks or the age of its victims, as otherwise healthy individuals have died from myocarditis. Other causes of myocarditis include autoimmune diseases such as lupus, bacterial infections, contact with toxic mold, and adverse reactions to certain medications. However, the most common way that myocarditis infects the body is through a viral infection which quickly weakens the muscle in the heart, eventually leading to heart failure and death in many instances.
The symptoms of myocarditis vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe onset of chest pain, shortness of breath, arrhythmia, fatigue, nausea, and fluid accumulation in the lungs. Many individuals have relatively no symptoms at all and experience sudden and excruciating chest pain prior to collapsing. Symptoms of myocarditis which signal that the body has been invaded by a virus are fever, headache, sore throat, body aches, joint pain, and diarrhea. Sufferers with many of these symptoms often confuse them with flu and will treat with common over the counter remedies, unaware that a more serious medical problem lies. Similarly, doctors will often misdiagnose myocarditis because symptoms mimic other illnesses. It is recommended that patients whose cold and flu symptoms do not subside after seven days of treatment contact their doctor immediately.
A diagnosis of myocarditis is made via chest X-ray, blood tests for enzymes which formulate in the heart muscle when it suffers inflammation, and electrocardiogram (EKG) to detect irritation of the heart muscle. The treatment of myocarditis is dependent on treating the underlying cause of the disease, as well as its severity. In some patients the disease goes away on its own, although very rare. When myocarditis produces damage to the heart, a typical course of treatment include drugs to reduce the heart’s workload and those which eliminate excess fluid.