Myocarditis

Myocarditis (rare plural: myocarditides) is a general term referring to inflammation of the myocardium. 

Clinical presentation is variable in severity, ranging from asymptomatic to cardiogenic shock, but it typically is associated with other viral symptoms, including fever and malaise. It typically occurs 7-10 days after the onset of the systemic illness.

Chest pain may occur, in a variety of typical and atypical presentations.

Lab values are typically non-specific, with increased ESR and leukocytosis. Creatine kinase, CK-MB, and troponins may be elevated. A viral titer may be positive.

Commonly sought due to the clinical presentation, but demonstrates poor sensitivity. Findings include:

  • sinus tachycardia
    • non-specific, most common overall electrocardiographic manifestation
  • concave, diffuse ST segment elevation
  • interventricular conduction delays
  • prolongation of the QRS complex duration (>0.12 seconds)
    • poor prognostic factor 13

Myocarditis has a number of etiologies. Inflammation from viral etiologies is thought to be caused both by direct cellular damage by the infectious agent and also from involvement by the host's immune system.

  • viral (most common etiology): e.g. Coxsackievirus, Echovirus, arbovirus
  • bacterial, e.g. Corynebacterium diphtheriaeStreptococcus pyogenesStaphylococcus aureusBorrelia burgdorferi
  • fungal, e.g. Candida spp.
  • parasites, e.g. Trypanosoma cruzi

Although non-specific, cardiac creatine kinase (CK) and troponins I, T and C (TnI, TnT and TnC) are elevated.

Myocarditis is classified into four categories based on the clinical and pathologic presentation: fulminant, acute, chronic active, and chronic persistent.

Not always useful but some case reports describe certain features that can be helpful such as delayed myocardial enhancement (i.e. similar to MRI) with iodinated contrast 10,11.

  • cine SSFP
    • regional or global wall motion abnormalities are common but nonspecific (biventricular wall motion abnormality, however, is the main predictor of death or transplantation)
    • pericardial effusion is reported in ~45% (range 32-57%) of patients with myocarditis
  • T2 black blood
    • T2 myocardial hyperintensity is compatible with edema
    • T2 hyperintensity may be global and difficult to detect
  • early gadolinium enhancement
    • regional vasodilatation and increased blood volume due to the inflammation in myocarditis causes early postcontrast enhancement
  • late gadolinium enhancement
    • delayed myocardial enhancement in myocarditis is an indication of irreversible myocardial necrosis and fibrosis.
    • distribution of enhancement is variable, but classically involves the subepicardial myocardium (mid-interventricular and focal transmural patterns are also possible)

The original Lake Louise criteria 5 have been updated in 2018. The following two main criteria (T1 and T2 criteria) now have to be fulfilled for the diagnosis of acute myocarditis 14:

  • T2-weighted: any of the following
    • standard T2 sequences: regional high signal
    • standard T2 sequences: global signal intensity ratio (myocardium/skeletal muscle) ≥2
    • T2 mapping: increased T2 relaxation times
  • T1-weighted: any of the following
    • late enhancement imaging: non-ischemic (subepicardial or midmyocardial) late enhancement
    • native T1 mapping: increased T1 relaxation times or extracellular volume
  • supportive criteria:
    • signs of pericarditis: effusion or pericardial late enhancement
    • regional or global wall motion abnormalities

Primarily useful to exclude alternative diagnoses which present in a similar manner, including ischemic heart disease, and evaluate for the presence or absence of a pericardial effusion (and potential tamponade physiology). Findings common in myocarditis include 12:

Endomyocardial biopsy is considered the gold standard of diagnosis, although it is subject to sampling error and there is a risk of perforation or tamponade. Endomyocardial biopsy is graded according to the Dallas criteria, with gradations of myocarditis, borderline myocarditis, and no myocarditis.

A typical appearance of myocarditis on MRI in the correct clinical setting may obviate biopsy.

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Article information

rID: 31898
System: Cardiac
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Myocarditides
  • Myocardial inflammation

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Cases and figures

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  • Case 3: acute perimyocarditis
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