If there were a problem with your heart would you go see a doctor? Of course you would. So, why then do so many people ignore a common heart problem until it causes more serious complications? Because they have no idea it's happening - or they write it off as something else. "Myocarditis is like flu of your heart," said Stavros Drakos, MD, a cardiologist with University of Utah Health's Cardiovascular Center. "It causes inflammation, but its symptoms are such that many people don't realize it's happening - or think they are just a bit under the weather."
While sometimes the symptoms of myocarditis may be mild, the complications if left untreated can be severe. The inflammation can weaken the heart's muscle to the point it cannot effectively pump blood causing symptoms of heart failure (such as shortness of breath and fatigue). It also can cause palpitations and irregular heart rhythms known as arrhythmias. It is usually when one of these complications arise that patients find out they previously suffered from myocarditis. "They will have no idea that this underlying problem existed," said Drakos. "It may have happened one, two three or even more years in the past and they never went to the hospital or saw a doctor."
Symptoms of myocarditis vary. You may feel short of breath during exercising or during activities when you didn't feel winded before. You might feel your heart racing or feel light headed. In some cases there may be chest pain or tightness in the chest. Sometimes the above mentioned symptoms manifest mildly and the patients primarily feel like they just have the flu.
"When on top of regular flu-like symptoms you experience chest tightness, heart racing or out of proportion fatigue and shortness of breath you should not just wait these symptoms out," said Drakos. "That's dangerous. You shouldn't just blame such symptoms on a regular viral infection."
Seeing a doctor if you suspect you might be suffering from myocarditis means they can put you on a treatment to reverse the problem and avoid further damage to your heart. These treatments often involve medications known as beta blockers or ACE inhibitors as well as monitoring until the heart regains its strength.
Of course, there is the chance you will go to your doctor and be told your heart is fine and you simply have the flu or are having an off day. "It could be the case the symptoms mean nothing. However, when the consequences could be so severe it's best to see your doctor," said Drakos. "It's better to be safe than sorry."