Influence of genetics on inflammation of the heart

A new study has revealed that genes may play a role in the development of the inflammation of the heart known as myocarditis in young people and athletes. The study, led by a senior cardiologist at Imperial College London, concluded that genes can increase the susceptibility of some people to developing myocarditis. Adam Helms, MD, an assistant professor at the Frankel Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, told the American Heart Association that the fact that genes may be a factor isn’t surprising. Testing to determine if a person is susceptible to heart inflammation due to genetic factors may prevent death.

The three types of carditis are myocarditis, endocarditis, and pericarditis. Myocarditis affects the heart muscle itself, while endocarditis inflames the inner linings of the heart and pericarditis irritates the outer lining of the heart. Myocarditis can be acute or chronic and may cause complications for the heart as it pumps blood. Difficulty distributing blood can lead to heart failure. Untreated myocarditis was identified in sudden deaths in eight percent of those ages 1 to 17 and 9 percent of athletes. They may also be responsible for 3-12% of all sudden deaths.

Myocarditis causes, risk factors and symptoms

Among the genetic causes of carditis are heart defects. These may be structural or congenital problems that may include problems within the heart valves. Genes may also influence the body’s response to inflammation and infection.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) states that viral infections are the most common cause of myocarditis and pericarditis. Pericarditis occurs when the pericardium, the thin layer of tissue around the heart, becomes irritated. Other causes not linked to genetics include bacteria, parasites, and, in rare cases, fungi. Myocarditis may begin or be exacerbated by certain autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

The side effects of some medications may also lead to inflammation of the heart. Medicines include penicillin, other antibiotics, antidepressants, and diuretics. Additionally, some medications prescribed for heart, seizure, and weight loss may also cause myocarditis.

The different types of carditis tend to affect certain age groups. Myocarditis and pericarditis are more likely to appear in young people while the elderly are more susceptible to endocarditis, especially through bacteria. Carditis is generally more common in men than women with one exception, which is the presence of autoimmune diseases. In those cases, women tend to be equally susceptible.

In addition to autoimmune diseases, other medical conditions that can increase the risk of developing heart inflammation are diabetes, eating disorders including anorexia, and skin disorders. Diabetes increases the likelihood of infection, and skin disorders include burns or infections. Myocarditis can be triggered by HIV/AIDS due to some treatment methods, the presence of viral or fungal infections and nutritional deficiencies that may develop.

In addition, non-genetic risk factors can include environmental and lifestyle choices. Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to problems with the work of the heart. The use of certain illegal drugs, including cocaine, amphetamines, and intravenous recreational substances, can also increase the likelihood of developing a heart infection.

Symptoms may include chest pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath that may occur while a person is active or at rest. If the legs, feet, or ankles are swollen, there may be a heart infection. An irregular or fast heartbeat, joint pain, or headache may also be symptoms.

Preventive measures

While it is impossible to prevent some cases of myocarditis and other heart infections, certain precautions may help prevent infection or inflammation. Among the recommended preventive measures are proper dental hygiene. The bacteria can travel from the mouth to other parts of the body, including the heart. Bacteria that cause gum disease, for example, creates infections in the mouth. The bacteria can travel into the bloodstream and eventually lead to infection and inflammation in the heart. Therefore, regular dental exams and proper oral and dental care may also reduce the spread of bacteria to the heart.

In addition to diligent dental care, general hygiene practices, such as hand washing and avoiding sick people, help reduce the risk of developing myocarditis. It is also recommended to keep vaccinations up to date. The flu and rubella can cause myocarditis, so vaccinations for those diseases are important.

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Omar Haqqani is the chief of vascular and endovascular surgery at the Midland Vascular Health Clinics.

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