Your Heart and Inflammation

When you cut your finger or turn your ankle, it swells, turns red and hurts. This can be sign of inflammation, which is your body’s response – or fight against – infection, injury or an irritant. However, inflammation isn’t always good for your body. The immune system can fight against the body’s own cells by mistake, leading to serious health problems, including causing damage to your heart.

And, although there is no specific proof that inflammation can cause cardiovascular disease, inflammation is common among heart disease and stroke patients. According to the American Heart Association, the body appears to perceive the build-up of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque in blood vessels as abnormal or foreign and tries to ‘wall off’ the plaque from flowing blood. This could cause a blood clot formation, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Three Main Types of Heart Inflammation

  • Endocarditis – inflammation of the inner lining of the heart’s chambers and valves.
  • Myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle.
  • Pericarditis – inflammation of the tissue that forms a sac around the heart.

Causes of Heart Inflammation

Many times the causes of heart inflammation aren’t known. When the cause is known, it is usually due to a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. Additionally, some autoimmune diseases can cause the immune system to mistakenly turn against the heart, resulting in inflammation and damage.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms depend on which type of heart inflammation you have and can happen suddenly or progress slowly with severe symptoms or almost no symptoms at all. Symptoms can vary from fever and chills, abdominal pain and night sweats to chest pain, fast heartbeat and fever. If you have a reason to think you are at risk for heart inflammation, please talk with your doctor.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor will diagnose heart inflammation based on your medical history, a physical exam and diagnostic tests and imaging studies, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to look for changes in your heart’s electrical activity or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect inflammation and swelling. Often with pericarditis, the cause of the inflammation may remain unknown.

If you are diagnosed with heart inflammation, your doctor may prescribe medicine to treat the disease, or consider surgery to manage the damage or remove excess fluid. In mild cases, the inflammation may go away on its own.

National Center for Biotechnology Information/National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health
American Heart Association

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