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6/4/21 blog post

can the COVID-19 vaccine cause heart problems?

Since April 2021, there have been rare reports of cases of inflammation of the heart following the mRNA COVID-19 vaccination (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) in the United States. These conditions are known as myocarditis and pericarditis. With concerns rising, we sat down with Lubabatu Abdurrahman, MD, interim chief, division of pediatric cardiology at Dayton Children’s, to learn about inflammation of the heart following COVID-19 vaccination.

What is myocarditis and pericarditis?

Myocarditis is a rare inflammation of the heart muscle. It is usually caused by a viral infection. When myocarditis occurs, it can weaken the heart’s pumping ability so that it is unable to supply the body with enough oxygen-rich blood. In severe cases this can lead to heart failure.

Pericarditis is the inflammation of the outside lining of the heart. Like myocarditis, it is often caused by a viral infection. It can also occur after a respiratory or digestive system infection. Pericarditis can be acute, and in this case the symptoms do not last long. More severe cases may have longer lasting symptoms and may take longer to treat.

Is it safe for an adolescent with a heart condition to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) highly recommends the COVID-19 vaccination for anyone 12 years of age or older. While there have been reported cases of post vaccination inflammation of the heart, the risk is small in comparison to the risk of developing serious complications, like multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) after a COVID-19 infection. COVID-19 itself has been a well-known cause of myocarditis.

Current research shows that post vaccination inflammation of the heart has been more prevalent in teenagers over the age of 16 years and in young adults. Research has also shown it to be more common in males than in females. Most patients have mild symptoms, respond to treatment with rest and medication and recover quickly and fully.

What are the signs and symptoms of myocarditis or pericarditis following the COVID-19 vaccine?

Symptoms of myocarditis or pericarditis after the COVID-19 vaccine have typically been reported within four days of the vaccination. The symptoms may vary, but commonly include:

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

What should I do if my child shows signs of myocarditis or pericarditis?

If your child has chest pain, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or a rapid heartbeat, you should seek medical care. If you child is experiencing symptoms that are concerning but not severe, he/she may not require a visit to the ED, call your child’s primary care provider to determine a plan of action.

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Lubabatu Abdurrahman, MD

division chief cardiology
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