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Myocarditis - pediatric

Contents of this page:



Definition    Return to top

Pediatric myocarditis is inflammation and weakness of the heart muscle in an infant or young child.

Causes    Return to top

Myocarditis is an uncommon disorder. In children it is usually caused by viral infections that reach the heart, such as the influenza (flu) virus, Coxsackie virus, and adenovirus. However, it may also occur during or after other viral or bacterial infections such as polio, rubella, Lyme disease, and others.

When you have an infection, your body's immune system produces special cells that release certain chemicals to fight off disease. If the infection affects your heart, the disease-fighting cells enter the heart. However, the chemicals they produce can damage the heart muscle, causing it to become thick and swollen. This leads to symptoms of heart failure. In addition, the virus or bacteria damage the heart muscle.

Other causes of pediatric myocarditis may include:

Pediatric myocarditis tends to be more severe in newborns and young infants than in children over age 2.

Symptoms    Return to top

Symptoms may be mild at first and difficult to detect.

In newborns and infants, symptoms may sometimes appear suddenly and may include:

Symptoms in children over age 2 may also include:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Pediatric myocarditis can be difficult to diagnose because the signs and symptoms often mimic those associated with other heart and lung diseases.

The doctor may hear a rapid heartbeat or abnormal heart sounds while listening to the child’s chest with a stethoscope. A physical examination may detect fluid in the lungs and swelling in the legs in older children.

There may be signs of infection, including fever, rashes, red throat, itchy eyes, and swollen joints.

A chest x-ray can show enlargement (swelling) of the heart. An electrocardiogram and echocardiogram should also be done.

Further tests may include:

Treatment    Return to top

There is no cure for myocarditis, although the heart muscle inflammation usually goes away on its own in time.

The goal of treatment is to support heart function and treat the underlying cause of the myocarditis. Most children with this condition are admitted to a hospital. Activity can strain the heart and therefore is often limited.

Treatment may include:

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

How well the child does depends on the cause and his or her overall health. With appropriate treatment, most children recover completely. However, some may have permanent heart disease. Newborns have the highest risk for serious disease and complications (including death) due to myocarditis. In rare cases, an urgent heart transplant is necessary.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Make an appointment with your child's pediatrician if signs or symptoms of this condition occur.

Prevention    Return to top

There is no known prevention. However, prompt and adequate treatment of viral, bacterial, or parasitic diseases may help reduce your child's risk.

References    Return to top

Freedman SB, Haladyn JK, Floh A, Kirsh JA, Taylor G, Thull-Freedman J. Pediatric myocarditis: emergency department clinical findings and diagnostic evaluation. Pediatrics. 2007 Dec;120(6):1278-85.

Behrman RE. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 17th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2004.

Park MK, Troxler RG. Pediatric Cardiology for Practitioners. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby, Inc; 2002.

Schwartz SM, Wessel DL. Medical cardiovascular support in acute viral myocarditis in children. Guidelines for the Treatment of Myocarditis in Infants and Children and Proceedings of the 2005 Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Symposium. Pediatr Crit Care Med. 7(6) Supplement:S12-S16, November 2006.

Update Date: 2/29/2008

Updated by: Mark A Fogel, MD, FACC, FAAP, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Radiology and Director of Cardiac MR, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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