Myocarditis in the Era of COVID

Myocarditis simply means inflammation of the heart muscle. This is a relatively rare condition that most doctors encounter only occasionally. The severity of this inflammation can range from mild, causing minimal symptoms like a bit of chest discomfort and shortness of breath, to severe, causing the heart to fail, which can result in death in the worst cases.


The most common cause of myocarditis is viral infections, and many types of viruses can be the culprit, including COVID-19. Other causes include autoimmune or inflammatory diseases (where your cells attack your own body), drugs, bacteria, fungi, and even parasites.


Recently, a few cases of myocarditis that may be associated with COVID-19 vaccination have been reported in the medical literature. This has caused concern among the general public and some healthcare providers. However, most of that concern is unfounded.


It is important to remember that hundreds of millions of individuals have received COVID-19 vaccines. All those patients are prone to the same problems that happen to everyone else, including heart attacks, strokes, getting in a car accident, and developing myocarditis. This does not mean the vaccine caused those problems. Whenever we see an association of a rare condition with vaccination, we must carefully assess the data to make sure the problem is actually being caused by the vaccine and not something else.


In the case of myocarditis, it appears that indeed, very, very few cases have been caused by the vaccine. Most of these few cases have been mild. So vaccine-related myocarditis is a minuscule risk, and you should not be concerned about it.


The risks of COVID-19 itself, on the other hand, are considerable. COVID-19 can cause severe, long-lasting lung damage and chronic heart problems that can be disabling. Not to mention that almost 600,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States as of the time of this writing. Keep in mind that almost all of the deaths caused by COVID-19 in recent months have been in unvaccinated patients.


In short, the risks of COVID-19 itself vastly outweigh the concerns about developing myocarditis from COVID-19 vaccines, so getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the right choice. In fact, it may be our only way back to normal life. This is especially true now that we are seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases with the arrival of the Delta variant, as we believe the current vaccines are effective in preventing severe disease from variant strains.


Get the vaccine.


Until Next Time!

Stephanie Coulter, MD

Thank you to Dr. Alex Postalian, Dr. Karla Campos and Jackie Ferrufino for their contributions to this issue of Straight Talk.