While there is much to be learned about myocarditis, we know that viral infections are among the most common causes of the condition. Because of this, it is often the case that myocarditis brought on by a viral infection has everything to do with the myocardial injury sustained as a result of the virus. The damage to the heart is caused by the body’s natural defenses against the virus and can lead to severe heart failure and even death.
Myocardial injury can be difficult to detect, and it is important to know the potential causes, as well as supportive therapies and activities to avoid while your body is healing. To help raise awareness about this health risk, Myocarditis Foundation takes a closer look at myocardial injury and how viruses can cause it.
Understanding Your Heart’s Response to a Viral Infection
The body is designed to defend itself, and when there is a foreign pathogen attacking it, your body responds with force. When a virus tries to infiltrate the heart, our immune cells including MAST cells, which usually protect us from allergies, kick off an immune response that summons other immune cells known as macrophages and T cells. These two types of immune cells make up most of the inflammation in the heart that is responsible for myocarditis. This overactive immune response to the virus in the heart is what leads to myocardial damage.
Symptoms of Myocardial Injury and Myocarditis
Despite being a cardiovascular problem, myocardial injuries don’t present with symptoms typical of other heart conditions. Be on the lookout for the following symptoms in the weeks after recovering from a viral infection, which may indicate myocardial injury:
- Chest pain
- Fluid retention and swelling of the lower body
- Rapid or abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing, either at rest or while active
- Signs of viral infection
- Muscle aches
- Weak urine flow (in extreme cases)
More importantly, trust the signals your body is sending you. If you’re experiencing any number of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor for a thorough evaluation.
If You Have a Myocardial Injury, Avoid Doing This
Since viral infection is occurring in the heart, the one thing you should avoid doing if you suspect you have a myocardial injury is strenuous physical activity. Research is currently being conducted to better understand why strenuous exercise after a viral myocarditis can exacerbate heart damage and lead to heart failure. Currently it is recommended that you wait 3 to 6 months after developing viral myocarditis before engaging in strenuous exercise. Research will hopefully provide a better understanding soon of why this is so important.
Learn More from Myocarditis Foundation
If you believe you are at risk or have suffered a myocardial injury as a result of a viral infection, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician today. There are a series of tests that can be done to determine whether or not a myocardial injury is present. For more information on myocardial injury and myocarditis, contact Myocarditis Foundation.