What is Heart Inflammation?

What is Heart Inflammation?

Heart inflammation is often a result of the body's reaction to an infection. Inflammation can cause pain and swelling in the lining of your heart valves, heart muscle, or surrounding tissue.

Serious health problems can arise from heart inflammation, such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), coronary heart disease, or even heart failure.

Viral and bacterial infections are often causes of heart inflammation. Autoimmune diseases can also trigger infections. There are various types of heart inflammation, and recognizing the symptoms can help determine the most suitable treatment.

Heart inflammation symptoms are different for people depending on which type they have. Your doctor can recommend whether surgery or medication is best to treat your condition, depending on the tests they perform.

The different types of heart inflammatory conditions are:

  • Pericarditis
  • Myocarditis
  • Endocarditis

Types of Heart Inflammation


The heart is made up of three layers; the pericardium, the myocardium, and the endocardium. Inflammation of the heart differs according to which area of the heart is affected.

  • Pericarditis - This type of heart inflammation affects the outer layer of the heart and is most often caused by a viral infection. Pericarditis can cause extremely painful breathing. Since the exact origin of the virus is not necessarily known, doctors usually prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to combat the pain and swelling over an anti-viral medication. 
  • Myocarditis - This condition is considered rare. Myocarditis is usually caused by an infection, including viral infections such as a cold, the flu, or COVID-19. A bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection can also trigger myocardial inflammation. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, sarcoidosis, Wegener's granulomatosis, giant cell arteritis, and Takayasu's arteritis may also cause myocarditis.
  • Endocarditis - This type of heart inflammation can be serious. Endocarditis is usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection somewhere else in the body. The bacteria or fungus enters the bloodstream and travels to the heart, where it causes inflammation and damage to the lining of the heart's chambers and valves.

Signs & Symptoms of Heart Inflammation


Symptoms for heart inflammation differ according to the type of infection, location of inflammation, and severity of the condition. However, some general heart inflammation symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

The symptoms of heart inflammation are usually associated with a specific condition. For instance:

  • Pericarditis - Symptoms include a rapid heartbeat and chest pain that is somewhat alleviated when sitting up straight and leaning forward
  • Myocarditis - Signs include swelling in the legs and feet, fatigue, and heart palpitations
  • Endocarditis - Symptoms can include fever, chills, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle ache, joint pain, and night sweats
  • Virus - If a virus is the cause of heart inflammation, you may first experience a runny nose, cough, or stomach issues

If you’re experiencing symptoms of heart inflammation, talk to your doctor. They will perform a physical exam and order tests needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

What Causes Heart Inflammation?


Heart inflammation can have many causes, including: 

  • A viral or bacterial infection that travels through the bloodstream, attacking the heart's tissue and valves
  • An autoimmune disease that can attack the body's organs, including the heart, leading to inflammation
  • Environmental toxic exposure can lead to heart inflammation
  • Alcohol abuse or drug abuse such as cocaine and methamphetamine are known factors in causing heart inflammation

Can the COVID-19 Vaccine Cause Heart Inflammation?

There is a slight connection between COVID-19 vaccination and the development of myocarditis and pericarditis. In those with a compromised immune system, the COVID-19 vaccine may cause an immune system response that can lead to myocarditis or pericarditis.

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors can lead to heart inflammation. These include:

  • Age - Age can be a factor, especially in myocarditis and pericarditis, which generally affects young adults. However, pericarditis is also common among middle-aged adults. Endocarditis is often caused by a bacterial infection and usually affects older adults.
  • Sex - Most types of heart inflammation are more common among men. For instance, endocarditis and pericarditis occur twice as many times in men. 
  • Genetics - Family history and genetics play a significant role in determining risk factors for acquiring heart inflammation. In those born with congenital heart defects such as heart valve problems, there is an increased possibility of developing an infection that can lead to endocarditis. 
  • Environmental factors - Living in areas where parasites-spreading insects are prevalent can increase a person's risk for contracting acute and chronic myocarditis. 
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices - Excessive alcohol and drug use can lead to heart failure or weaken the heart, making it more susceptible to infection. In addition, poor dental hygiene is a factor known to contribute to poor heart health.
  • Medical conditions - Those with preexisting medical conditions have an increased risk of developing heart inflammation. These medical conditions may include:
    • Diabetes, which can increase your risk for infections
    • Anorexia can weaken the heart, making it more susceptible to infection
    • HIV/AIDS increases a person's risk of developing infections which could lead to myocarditis
    • Warning signs of heart inflammation may appear on your skin or nails
    • Medical procedures such as the implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator increase a person's risk of infection; thus, the possibility of developing heart inflammation rises.
    • Environmental factors can contribute to heart inflammation. Hazardous conditions such as air pollution, excessive heat, or exposure to toxic materials should be avoided, especially for older adults.



Heart inflammation can lead to significant health issues. Chronic heart inflammation can even damage the walls of the arteries or blood vessels. Some complications that can arise from heart inflammation are:

  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) - Viral infections that cause myocarditis can cause rapid or irregular heart rhythms. This could cause a stroke or heart attack.
  • Coronary heart disease - Heart inflammation can inflame your blood vessels. This irritation can cause plaque to grow and loosen, allowing blood clots to form and resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
  • Heart failure - Myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle, reduces the heart's ability to pump blood. This lack of blood flow could ultimately lead to heart failure.



There are no definite ways to avoid heart inflammation. However, the following can help prevent certain infections. Some examples include:

  • Stay away from sick people - And avoid exposing other people if you have cold or flu symptoms
  • Wash your hands - One of the most effective ways to avoid getting sick or spreading germs is to wash your hands frequently
  • Practice safe lifestyle behavior - Practice safe sex to prevent contracting HIV, which could lead to myocarditis. Also, avoid the use of illegal drugs like cocaine or amphetamines.
  • Stay up to date with vaccines -Your healthcare provider will discuss the risks and benefits of vaccinations against diseases such as COVID-19, the flu, and rubella, all of which can lead to myocarditis or pericarditis. In rare instances, the COVID-19 vaccine caused heart inflammation, mainly among males between 12 and 29 years of age.
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Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Heart Inflammation Care

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor. Learn more about the heart inflammation treatment options available at NewYork-Presbyterian's cardiology and cardiac surgery units, located throughout New York City, Westchester, and Hudson Valley.