Myocarditis: Expert discusses vaccine side effect
The heart is one of our vital organs, and the primary organ of the circulatory system that works to pump blood around the body.
It also controls the rhythm and speed of your heart rate and maintains your blood pressure.
Therefore, any problems with the heart can be potentially dangerous and affect the whole body.
Many heart issues can be linked back to lifestyle habits, with poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking all linked to risk factors such as high cholesterol and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
However, there is one disease that affects the heart that can be beyond our control.
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Myocarditis causes inflammation of the heart muscle, and is typically brought on by an infection in the body such as a cold, flu or even Covid.
While many patients make a full recovery, it can also lead to scarring and damage to the organ.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) explains: “Myocarditis can develop suddenly (acutely), can be recurring or it can be long-lasting (chronic).
“Most people will recover without any lasting effects. But in rare cases, if the inflammation is severe, myocarditis can scar the heart muscle.
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“This damage means the heart has to work harder to pump blood and oxygen around the body.
“In some cases, this can result in the heart muscle becoming bigger, and over time, weaker.”
If you think you have myocarditis it is important you seek medical help as soon as possible to prevent or minimise damage to the heart.
According to the BHF there are eight common symptoms to look out for.
- Chest pain or discomfort, or a feeling of tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath, either at rest or when active, or in certain positions, such as lying down
- Unusual tiredness
- Palpitations (like your heart is fluttering, racing, or pounding)
- An irregular heartbeat
- Feeling light-headed or fainting
- Flu-like symptoms such as high temperature, headaches, body aches, joint pain, or sore throat
- Swelling in hands, legs, ankles or feet.
The BHF says: “If you think you have symptoms of myocarditis, contact your doctor straight away, or call NHS 111.
“Getting diagnosed and treated early can help you feel better and lower your risk of long-term complications from myocarditis.”
However, in some cases people won’t experience symptoms and it will be picked up during a routine examination.
Causes of myocarditis
The BHF warns that the most common cause of the disease is a virus, such as the flu or COVID-19, or another viral infection.
“When myocarditis is caused by a virus, symptoms can start to show one or two weeks later,” it says.
“This is because the immune system, the body’s own natural defence system, overreacts to being infected with a virus, and causes inflammation.
“This inflammation can stay in the heart even after the virus has gone.”
However, other causes include:
- Bacterial infections, such as sore throat, or chest infection, or fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot
- Autoimmune diseases (when your own immune system attacks your body), for example lupus
- A reaction to harmful substances (toxins), such as carbon monoxide, or drugs such as cocaine
- A reaction to certain medicines or vaccines.
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