As efforts to improve U.S. COVID-19 vaccination rates move forward, one of the side effects gaining attention is a type of inflammation in the heart muscle called myocarditis.
What Is Myocarditis?
Myocarditis is a condition in which your heart muscle, called the myocardium, becomes inflamed. It affects your heart’s electrical signal and may cause a rapid or abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). It can also affect your heart’s ability to pump blood and circulate oxygen.
What Are the Causes?
It usually results from a viral infection or a drug reaction. It can happen to anyone, including adults, children, and infants. In fact, it’s more likely to affect people under 30 who are otherwise healthy. It affects men twice as often as women.
What Are the Symptoms?
Myocarditis can range from mild to severe. It also affects children differently.
In mild cases, symptoms can include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Heart flutter
In severe cases, you might notice:
- Chest pain
- Rapid or abnormal heart rhythms
- Shortness of breath, at rest or during physical activity
- Swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet
Other symptoms can be part of a viral infection that causes your myocarditis, such as a headache, body aches, joint pain, fever, a sore throat, or diarrhea.
Myocarditis symptoms in children include:
If you notice any of these symptoms, tell your doctor. If it’s an emergency, call 911 or head to the nearest hospital.
Can the COVID-19 Vaccine Cause Heart Inflammation?
Yes, but experts aren’t sure what the link is. Only about 1,000 people have gotten vaccine-related myocarditis.
So far, myocarditis seems to occur:
- In adolescent and young adult males 16 years or older
- After the second dose of one of the two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines
- Within several days after getting the vaccine
Most people who got it quickly recovered after getting treatment and some rest. Experts are monitoring the side effects but need more research to know for sure what the causes and long-term effects might be.
Is It Safe for You or Your Child Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Yes. The CDC recommends that people 12 and older get any of the available COVID-19 vaccines. The benefits of the vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 far outweighs the risks.
The vaccine can protect you from severe complications, such as long-term health problems, hospitalization, and even death. Getting vaccinated is the best available option to protect yourself and your family from the virus and its variants.
If you have concerns about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your doctor.
Can a COVID-19 Infection Cause Myocarditis?
Researchers say there may be a link. One study tested more than 19,378 college athletes for COVID-19 infection. Some 3,000 tested positive for COVID. Around 2,800 went through cardiac testing, and only 21 showed heart issues. Almost all those who did recovered fully. Experts says there’s a small chance of myocarditis or other heart issues from a COVID-19 infection.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Early diagnosis is key for proper treatment, full recovery, and to prevent long-term heart problems. Your doctor may do a physical exam and ask about your medical history. They may also do lab and imaging tests to confirm how severe the condition is. These can include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG). It’s a test to check your heart’s electrical signals and heart rate.
- Chest X-ray
- MRI. This test uses magnets to create pictures of your insides.
- Echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves to detect if your heart muscle has become inflamed and if it’s working properly.
- Blood tests
What Are the Treatment Options for Myocarditis?
Usually, myocarditis improves on its own and you recover completely. In rare cases, you may need treatments like corticosteroids. Antiviral drugs are available, but research shows they aren’t all that effective. If severe myocarditis causes heart problems, your doctor will treat them.
If you’ve had myocarditis, it’s best to avoid intense physical activities like sports for at least 3-6 months. Talk to your doctor before getting back to fitness routines or sports.
When Should You See a Doctor?
After you get the COVID-19 vaccine, be on the lookout for side effects for up to a week after each dose. Tell your doctor as soon as possible if you have sharp chest pain, a pounding heartbeat, or persistent heart flutters.
If you notice myocarditis symptoms or signs of an allergic reaction like hives, swelling, or wheezing after getting the vaccine, let your doctor know about it or get medical help right away.