If concerned you may be suffering from myocarditis, it’s important to understand its symptoms and how it’s diagnosed. With this knowledge, you are better prepared to speak with a myocarditis specialist. Myocarditis Foundation is here to provide you with the right questions you should be asking your doctor that can make all the difference.
What Is Myocarditis?
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium). The inflammation can reduce your heart’s ability to pump and cause rapid or abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Severe myocarditis weakens your heart so that the rest of your body doesn’t get enough blood. Clots can form in your heart, leading to a stroke or heart attack.
What Are the Symptoms?
If you’re in the early stages of myocarditis, you might have mild symptoms such as chest pain, rapid or irregular heartbeats, or shortness of breath. Some people with early-stage myocarditis may not show any symptoms at all. The signs and symptoms of myocarditis vary, depending on the cause of the disease. Common myocarditis signs and symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Rapid or abnormal heartbeat
- Shortness of breath, at rest or during activity
- Fluid buildup with swelling of your legs, ankles, and feet
- Other signs of a viral infection such as a headache, body aches, joint pain, fever, a sore throat or, diarrhea
How Is Myocarditis Diagnosed?
Early diagnosis of myocarditis is important to prevent long-term heart damage. After a physical examination, your doctor might order one or more tests to confirm that you have myocarditis and determine its severity. Tests to diagnose myocarditis might include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This quick and painless test shows your heart’s electrical patterns and can detect abnormal heartbeats.
- Chest X-ray: An X-ray image shows the size and shape of your heart, as well as whether you have fluid in or around the heart that might be related to heart failure.
- Heart MRI (Cardiac MRI): A cardiac MRI shows your heart’s size, shape, and structure. This test can show signs of inflammation of the heart muscle.
- Echocardiogram: Sound waves create moving images of the beating heart. An echocardiogram can show your heart size and how well your heart is pumping. The test can also reveal valve problems, a clot within the heart, or fluid around your heart.
- Blood tests: Blood tests used to diagnose or confirm myocarditis include a complete blood count and a test to check the levels of certain proteins (enzymes) that signal heart muscle damage. Other blood tests can be done to determine if you have antibodies against viruses and other organisms that might cause a myocarditis-related infection.
- Cardiac catheterization and heart muscle biopsy: A small tube (catheter) is inserted into a vein in your leg or neck and threaded into your heart. In some cases, doctors use a special instrument to remove a tiny sample of heart muscle tissue (biopsy) for analysis in the lab to check for inflammation or infection.
Talking To a Specialist
Contact your doctor if you have symptoms of myocarditis, particularly chest pain and shortness of breath. When speaking with a myocarditis specialist, questions you should ask include:
- Could the symptoms I’m showing be caused by myocarditis?
- What tests do you offer for diagnosing myocarditis?
- My family has a history of heart disease, am I at an increased risk for myocarditis?
- What steps can I take to prevent myocarditis?