Mayo Clinic Minute: How myocarditis affects men, athletes

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Mayo Clinic

By Alex Osiadacz

Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, is usually caused by a virus. It can reduce the heart’s ability to pump, causing rapid or abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias.

In many cases, myocarditis improves on its own or with treatment. But health care providers often advise athletes to steer clear from activity for several months.

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COVID-19 doesn’t usually affect the heart, but myocarditis has been reported in limited cases.

“Myocarditis disproportionately affects younger men. That’s due, in part, to high testosterone levels, which can make a viral infection more severe,” says Dr. Leslie Cooper, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist.

The risk of myocarditis is low, and most people will fully recover. Symptoms include shortness of breath, ankle swelling and fatigue. Once confirmed by echocardiogram and blood tests, returning to an active lifestyle after myocarditis can take some time.

“In young athletes, we recommend avoiding competitive sports for a period of three months to minimize the risk of worsening myocarditis,” says Dr. Cooper.

Myocarditis appears less frequently in adults who’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19, compared to those infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

“If you are immunosuppressed, or if you have other genetic reasons why you might get a heart illness ― for example, a strong family history of heart failure ― then it’s worth seeing your physician to discuss possible ways to minimize your personal risk,” says Dr. Cooper.