Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering…
What is Myocarditis?
The heart is surrounded by a layer of muscle referred to as the myocardium. In a healthy human, it contracts and relaxes alternatively to allow the contraction and expansion of the heart chambers, which pump blood. Sometimes the myocardium may be inflamed due to reasons that doctors are yet to establish. This leads to a drastic expansion of the heart’s size, which puts a considerable amount of pressure on its chambers. This causes problems in the effectiveness of the blood pumping process and results in complications such as chest pain, difficulty breathing and, in some severe cases, a heart attack. This condition is referred to as myocarditis (x).
Myocarditis affects people in different levels of severity from mild or subtle to life-threatening. Even though it is classified as a rare disease, it affects millions of people, both adults and children, all over the world every year. In the year 2017 alone, more than 3.1 million people suffered from it (x).
While the exact cause of myocarditis remains unknown, doctors and scientists have found that, in most cases, it results from an infection caused by either bacteria or viruses. The inflammation that leads to myocarditis is an effect of the immune response in fighting off such infections. They include (x, x):
Infections Caused by Viruses
A good way of diagnosing viral diseases is by looking for any signs of inflammation in the body. Sometimes it reaches the heart, and it may be hard to tell if one is suffering from myocarditis until something more severe manifests itself, such as heart failure. It is also particularly hard to diagnose because there may not be other visible symptoms such as flu or cold. Such viruses include coxsackievirus, varicella and the Epstein-Barr virus.
Even though it happens in rare cases, bacteria may invade the heart and infect the valves and the lining of its chambers. This is referred to as endocarditis. Inflammation may also be caused by some toxins released by certain disease-causing bacteria such as those produced by C. diphtheriae. These have a stretching and loosening effect that leaves the heart limp and unable to perform its normal functions. Lyme, also a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks, may also cause myocarditis.
Trypanosoma cruzi is a protozoan transmitted through insect bites that causes inflammation of the heart muscles and consequently, myocarditis. Those infected may develop the condition years after the incident, and if left unchecked, they may suffer heart failure.
Myocarditis may also be caused by some medicines or toxic substances introduced to the body such as radiation, hydrocarbons, alcohol and poison.
Symptoms of Myocarditis
Myocarditis has no visual symptoms, which is why many people have it and even recover from it without knowing it. Those more noticeable are not specific to it and appear like those of other heart problems. Their presence depends on the severity of the conditions. They include (x):
Tightness in Chest and Chest Pain
A feeling of tightness or being squeezed in the chest which intensifies during rest or exertion. It is probably because the swollen myocardium is literally squeezing the heart. Chest pains that intensify with laying on the back and reduce with leaning forward may also occur. This often happens when the inflammation affects the pericardium as well as the myocardium.
Slow Heart Rate or Irregular Heartbeats
It isn’t uncommon to experience a slow heart rate and fatigue that may be a result of the inflammation of the heart pacing and conduction tissues. Extra and irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), coupled with a rapid heart rate, are also common symptoms. This is a significant cause of death among young children and athletes with myocarditis. In quick succession, they may cause a feeling of lightheadedness, fatigue and loss of consciousness (x).
If you suspect that you have myocarditis, make sure to see a doctor as soon as you can. Early treatment will reduce the damage on the heart muscles. Here are some tests that the doctor may perform while diagnosing the condition (x, x):
- Electrocardiogram – This test uses non-invasive technology that makes use of electrical signals to assess your heart’s rhythm. The patterns obtained can tell the doctor whether you have an arrhythmia or not.
- Echocardiogram – This is also a non-invasive technology that uses sound waves to make out images of the heart. It is useful in identifying problems such as an inflamed and enlarged heart, a blood clot or any issues with the valves or heart chambers.
- MRI – This shows specific properties of the heart, including its size and shape. The doctor can quickly tell if it is inflamed by looking at the images.
- Blood tests – A blood test will show the composition of the blood in terms of white blood cell count and even viruses or other pathogens that could possibly cause infections and inflame the myocardial muscles.
- Chest x-ray – This is usually important in showing the size of the heart as well as any fluid that may be present around it.
Supplements and Remedies for Myocarditis
Carnitine, or L-carnitine, is a non-essential amino acid that serves as a building block for proteins in the body. It is available as a supplement for people whose natural levels are low due to disease or genetic disorders. Apart from building proteins, L-carnitine is also an essential co-factor in the transportation of fatty acids in the muscles of the heart.
A study using guinea pigs found that after being injected with diphtheria toxins, the levels of carnitine in their heart muscles reduced drastically (x). The rate of death decreased amongst the pigs that were injected with controlled amounts of L-carnitine.
While this experiment was performed on guinea pigs, it matches the test results in humans with diphtheria, which show an accumulation of fatty acids in the cytoplasm of the heart cells. Therefore, it suggests that the amino acid supplement could be useful in relieving and preventing myocarditis.
In another experiment, 184 patients with diphtheria split into two groups. One was administered with controlled doses of carnitine in addition to routine treatment for four days while the other was used as control. At the end of the study, the researchers recorded a significant decrease in the extent of damage on the myocardial tissues and reduced incidence of heart failure (x).
When a virus infects the body, large amounts of vitamin C are used by the immune system in fighting off the micro-organisms. Therefore, individuals suffering from such infections have low serum levels of the vitamin.
A study was conducted on three groups of mice to investigate the effects of additional vitamin C on viral myocarditis. At the end of the study, the group administered with doses of vitamin C showed a significant improvement in their prognosis. It was concluded that viruses hinder the energy production in the myocardial tissue, contributing to the inflammation. When a patient takes in some doses of vitamin c, it protects the functioning of the mitochondrion in the myocardium, which produces energy. This boosts the metabolism in the muscles and, in the long run, reduces the inflammation (x).
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory that has been used for decades in different parts of the world to treat all sorts of viral and bacterial infections (x). To make a remedy, it is often combined with other herbs and roots such as ginkgo and astragalus.
Immune-Boosting Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Taking a nutrient-dense diet, particularly one rich in vitamins and minerals, will go a long way in not only relieving, but also preventing myocarditis. Some rich sources of such nutrients include (x):
- Leafy greens such as spinach and kale
- Broccoli or cauliflower
- Seeds such as chia and flax
- Green tea
Avoid Processed Foods
Processed foods and snacks often contain extraordinary amounts of salt. It aggravates the symptoms of myocarditis by drawing more fluids into the bloodstream, hence making the heart work harder. Such foods also contain additives, preservatives, flavors and other substances that may increase the inflammation on the myocardial muscles (x).
Level the Amount of Potassium You are Taking
Potassium is a crucial compound for the body and plays a role in many vital functions. It, however, has to be taken in precise amounts, especially when one has heart problems. With patients taking medication to prevent heart failure, too much potassium can be disastrous. It makes the heart work harder, and considering the inflammation, this may have devastating effects (x).
On the other hand, deficient levels of potassium can increase arrhythmia. This makes it necessary to supplement with it (x).
As the inflammation is associated with viral and bacterial infections, it would be advisable to practice high levels of hygiene. Bacterial infections should be treated as soon as they are contracted. You should keep some distance from people with viral diseases, especially those that are easily transferable. Avoid sharing body piercing instruments and always practice safe sex. Additionally, you should minimize the number of sexual partners you have.
Avoid Intense Exercise
Myocarditis may make exercise particularly difficult, owing to the easy fatigue and shortness of breath. It would be advisable to avoid it unless cleared by the doctor. While it is a healthy habit that may help prevent inflammation and keeps the heart healthy, exercise with a delicate heart may put undue pressure on it and cause devastating effects. This is one of the reasons why athletes suddenly collapse in training (x, x).
It is important to note that the FDA does not regulate carnitine, vitamin C and ginger supplements. This leaves it to the manufacturers to recommend the best dosages for their specific products.
For the best prescription, it would be wise to visit your doctor and consult with him/her before taking any of the supplements. He will conduct a full diagnosis and establish whether you are suffering from myocarditis. He will then prescribe the appropriate medicines, supplements or procedures to treat the condition.
Consulting with a doctor, particularly one with good knowledge of your medical history is important. It helps check whether there are any possible interactions with any medicine you may be taking currently, or any negative effects due to other health conditions or even your family’s medical history.
The doctor or physician will also advise a dosage of each supplement based on different factors such as the extent of the condition, your age and other medicines you may be taking.
The Bottom Line
Myocarditis is a disease of the circulatory system that arises from the inflammation of the myocardial muscles of the heart. The exact cause of the inflammation remains unknown and under study, but doctors and scientists associate it with viral, bacterial and other infections transmitted through parasites.
Typically, myocarditis does not have any visible signs or symptoms, and when they show, it is usually in critical stages. They include shortness of breath, chest tightness, unexplained fatigue, lightheadedness and a doctor’s diagnosis may find some fluid around the heart. When left unchecked, myocarditis may result in heart failure, heart attacks, strokes and even death.
Some supplements and remedies for the condition include L-carnitine, vitamin C, ginger and lifestyle changes such as eating healthy and balanced foods.
Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.