Harvard Heart Letter

Heart infection can pose a medical mystery

Myocarditis often masquerades as a variety of other problems.

Nestled deep in the chest, the heart is protected from the physical forces that scrape skin or break bone. But it isn't immune to infection and inflammation. Each year, thousands of people develop myocarditis, an inflammation of the middle, muscular layer of the heart. It is triggered by infection, allergic reactions to drugs or chemicals, and some diseases. Myocarditis can be so mild that it passes unnoticed, and so serious that it causes heart failure or sudden death. Since there isn't one sign or symptom that shouts "myocarditis," making the diagnosis takes some careful medical sleuthing.

Key points

  • Inflammation of the middle layer of the heart is called myocarditis. It can stem from an infection or a strong allergic reaction.

  • The signs and symptoms of myocarditis aren't specific to this condition, so diagnosing it can be difficult.

  • The treatment of myocarditis depends on what's causing it and how inflammation is affecting the heart. Rest and medications are the starting point, though more aggressive treatments may be needed.

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