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Prevalence and Clinical Implications of COVID-19 Myocarditis

Published:November 08, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ccep.2021.11.001

      Keywords

      Key points

      • Cardiac involvement is frequent in patients with COVID-19, and myocarditis represents one of the most recurrent clinical manifestations.
      • Pathophysiology of myocarditis is still understood; direct viral damage or cell-mediated cytotoxicity are the 2 likely mechanisms.
      • Cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) represents the most important diagnostic tool, and diffuse edema may be considered the only CMR hallmark of COVID-19 myocarditis.
      • The management of COVID-19 myocarditis is firstly finalized to provide supportive care for heart failure and prevention of lethal cardiac arrhythmias.

      Introduction

      In December 2019 the first case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was described in Wuhan, China, in a patient complaining of flulike symptoms.
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      A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019.
      The pathogen has been recognized as a novel enveloped RNA β-coronavirus, named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
      The clinical manifestations of COVID-19 are widely variable ranging from asymptomatic infection to multiorgan failure and death. Although the clinical course of SARS-CoV-2 infection is mostly characterized by respiratory involvement, ranging from mild influenzalike illness to acute respiratory distress syndrome, it soon became evident that COVID-19 affects multiple organ systems, including the cardiovascular system.
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      Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a Descriptive study.
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      Potential effects of coronaviruses on the cardiovascular system: a review.
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      Evidence of systemic endothelial injury and microthrombosis in hospitalized COVID-19 patients at different stages of the disease.
      Overall, up to 30% of hospitalized patients have evidence of myocardial injury, which is associated with a greater need for mechanical ventilatory support and higher in-hospital mortality.
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      • Januzzi J.L.
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      Prevalence and impact of myocardial injury in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 infection.
      ,
      • Richardson S.
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      • Davidson K.W.
      • Barnaby D.P.
      • Becker L.B.
      • Chelico J.D.
      • et al.
      the Northwell COVID-19 Research Consortium
      Presenting characteristics, comorbidities, and outcomes among 5700 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the New York city Area.
      Cardiovascular manifestations include acute coronary syndrome, atrial and ventricular arrhythmias, myocarditis, and cardiogenic shock.
      • Madjid M.
      • Safavi-Naeini P.
      • Solomon S.D.
      • et al.
      Potential effects of coronaviruses on the cardiovascular system: a review.
      In particular, myocarditis is a well-recognized severe complication of COVID-19 and is associated with fulminant cardiogenic shock and sudden cardiac death.
      • Kesici S.
      • Aykan H.H.
      • Orhan D.
      • et al.
      Fulminant COVID-19-related myocarditis in an infant.
      • del Nonno F.
      • Frustaci A.
      • Verardo R.
      • et al.
      Virus-negative myopericarditis in human coronavirus infection: report from an autopsy Series.
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      • Greenshields J.T.
      • et al.
      Prevalence of clinical and subclinical myocarditis in Competitive Athletes with recent SARS-CoV-2 infection: results from the big ten COVID-19 cardiac registry.
      The pathophysiology of cardiac injury remains poorly understood, and the management and outcomes of myocarditis are not yet clarified. Thus, the authors present a comprehensive review about COVID-19–related myocarditis, describing clinical characteristics, diagnostic workup, and management.

      Epidemiology of COVID-19–related myocarditis

      The annual incidence of acute myocarditis from all causes is approximately 22 cases per 100,000 population, with heart failure (HF) occurring in 0.5% to 4.0% of these cases.
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      Global, regional, and National incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the global burden of disease study 2013.
      The true prevalence of myocarditis among patients with COVID-19 is difficult to establish, because the early reports often lacked the specific diagnostic modalities to assess myocarditis, and the circulating biomarkers reflecting myocardial injury can also be related to nonprimary myocardial damage (multiorgan failure, hypoxia, hypoperfusion, and activation of hemostasis).
      • Siripanthong B.
      • Nazarian S.
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      • et al.
      Recognizing COVID-19–related myocarditis: the possible pathophysiology and proposed guideline for diagnosis and management.
      Overall, several studies report that myocardial injury occurs in 15% to 27.8% of severe COVID-19 pneumonia cases.
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      • Shen B.
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      Association of cardiac injury with mortality in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China.
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      • Fan Y.
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      Cardiovascular implications of fatal outcomes of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
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      • Birtolo L.I.
      • Francone M.
      • et al.
      Cardiac involvement in consecutive unselected hospitalized COVID-19 population: in-hospital evaluation and one-Year follow-up.
      In addition, COVID-19–related myocarditis are also described in patients without prior pneumonia, indicating the probability of late onset of cardiovascular complications, even in those with mild symptoms.
      • Inciardi R.M.
      • Lupi L.
      • Zaccone G.
      • et al.
      Cardiac involvement in a patient with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
      ,
      • Kim I.-C.
      • Kim J.Y.
      • Kim H.A.
      • et al.
      COVID-19-Related myocarditis in a 21-year-old female patient.
      Otherwise, diffuse myocardial injury was also detected in the early stage of COVID-19–recovered patients who had no active cardiac symptoms.
      • Puntmann V.O.
      • Carerj M.L.
      • Wieters I.
      • et al.
      Outcomes of cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging in patients recently recovered from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

      Immunologic and pathophysiological mechanisms

      SARS-CoV-2 is a β-coronavirus whose genome consists of single-stranded RNA with positive polarity that belongs to the Coronaviridae family. The virus invades the human host cell by binding with high affinity to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) receptor. ACE-2 can be found on the ciliated columnar epithelial cells of the respiratory tract, type II pneumocytes, and cardiomyocytes. Therefore, this mechanism seems to be the pathway of SARS-CoV-2 infection of the human heart, especially in case of HF, as ACE-2 is upregulated.
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      • Kawai K.
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      Pathological evidence for SARS-CoV-2 as a cause of myocarditis.
      After penetration, viral RNA enters the cell nucleus for replication inducing human immunologic response to the virus.
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      • Mayer M.M.
      • Adusumalli S.
      • et al.
      COVID-19 and cardiac arrhythmias.
      The mechanism of heart damage remains poorly understood, and several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the underlying pathophysiology of COVID-19–related acute myocarditis.
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      • Silva A.M.
      • D’Agostino D.
      • et al.
      Cardiac involvement in COVID-19 patients: a contemporary review.
      Among them, the main theories are the following (Fig. 1):
      • a.
        Myocardial damage due to the direct viral action: SARS-CoV-2 invades cells by binding to ACE-2 receptors, which are expressed in human myocardium.
        • Ranard L.S.
        • Fried J.A.
        • Abdalla M.
        • et al.
        Approach to acute cardiovascular complications in COVID-19 infection.
        Despite that nowadays it is still unclear if SARS-CoV-2 is directly associated to cardiomyocyte infection and damage.
      • Indeed, although myocarditis has been clearly recognized at endomyocardial biopsy (EMB) or autopsy, there is no current evidence of myocarditis directly produced by cardiomyocyte infection due to the SARS-CoV-2 in humans,
        • del Nonno F.
        • Frustaci A.
        • Verardo R.
        • et al.
        Virus-negative myopericarditis in human coronavirus infection: report from an autopsy Series.
        ,
        • Escher F.
        • Pietsch H.
        • Aleshcheva G.
        • et al.
        Detection of viral SARS-CoV-2 genomes and histopathological changes in endomyocardial Biopsies.
        • Lindner D.
        • Fitzek A.
        • Bräuninger H.
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        Association of cardiac infection with SARS-CoV-2 in confirmed COVID-19 autopsy cases.
        • Basso C.
        • Leone O.
        • Rizzo S.
        • et al.
        Pathological features of COVID-19-associated myocardial injury: a multicentre cardiovascular pathology study.
        and the associated lymphocytic myocarditis may be related to the inflammatory reaction induced by cytokines
        • Sala S.
        • Peretto G.
        • Gramegna M.
        • et al.
        Acute myocarditis presenting as a reverse tako-tsubo syndrome in a patient with SARS-CoV-2 respiratory infection.
        or by extrapulmonary migration of infected alveolar macrophages.
      • b.
        Via cell-mediated cytotoxicity: activated CD8 T lymphocytes migrate to the heart and cause myocardial inflammation, inducing the cytokine release syndrome, a severe inflammatory response resulting in hypoxia and apoptosis of cardiomyocytes. This cytokine storm is proposed as the main mechanism underlying COVID-19–induced acute fulminant myocarditis.
        • Ranard L.S.
        • Fried J.A.
        • Abdalla M.
        • et al.
        Approach to acute cardiovascular complications in COVID-19 infection.
        ,
        • Gralinski L.E.
        • Baric R.S.
        Molecular pathology of emerging coronavirus infections.
        Substantial evidence suggest that elevated serum level of interleukin (IL)-6 is present in patients with COVID-19, especially in those with severe presentations.
        • Coomes E.A.
        • Haghbayan H.
        Interleukin-6 in Covid-19: a Systematic review and meta-analysis.
        As a matter of fact, IL-6 seems to be the central mediator of cytokine storm, in which it coordinates the proinflammatory responses from immune cells, including the T-lymphocytes.
        • Lee D.W.
        • Gardner R.
        • Porter D.L.
        • et al.
        Current concepts in the diagnosis and management of cytokine release syndrome.
        This process causes T-lymphocyte activation and a further release of inflammatory cytokines, which stimulate more T-lymphocytes, leading to a positive feedback loop of immune activation and myocardial damage.
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        • Harbert J.L.
        • et al.
        Pulmonary and cardiac Pathology in African American patients with COVID-19: an autopsy Series from new Orleans.
        Furthermore, IL-6 might cause a displacement of plakoglobin, a desmosomal protein, that could be arrhythmogenic due to the deposition of fibrous tissue.
        • Asimaki A.
        • Tandri H.
        • Duffy E.R.
        • et al.
        Altered desmosomal proteins in granulomatous myocarditis and potential pathogenic links to arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.
      • c.
        Interferon-mediated hyperactivation of the innate and adaptive immune system has also been proposed, especially in pediatric myocarditis COVID-19 related.
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        • May J.W.
        • Cunningham M.W.
        • et al.
        Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a Post-viral myocarditis and systemic vasculitis—a critical review of its pathogenesis and treatment.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Fig. 1Physiopathogenesis and clinical presentation of COVID-19 myocarditis.
      Most probably, as proposed by Esfandiarei and colleagues, the pathophysiology of viral myocarditis is a miscellaneous of direct viral cell injury and T-lymphocyte–mediated cytotoxicity, which can be augmented by the cytokine storm syndrome.
      • Esfandiarei M.
      • McManus B.M.
      Molecular biology and pathogenesis of viral myocarditis.
      Furthermore, cardiotoxic antiviral therapies may play a role in the genesis of myocardial inflammation, and a drug-induced myocarditis should also be considered.
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      Immunomodulatory therapy for the management of severe COVID-19. Beyond the anti-viral therapy: a comprehensive review.
      ,
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      A novel clinical method for quantification of regional left ventricular pressure–strain loop area: a non-invasive Index of myocardial work.

      Clinical presentation

      Clinical presentation of SARS-CoV-2 myocarditis could be very different: some patients may present relatively mild symptoms, such as fatigue and dyspnea, whereas others may complain of chest pain or chest tightness.
      • Inciardi R.M.
      • Lupi L.
      • Zaccone G.
      • et al.
      Cardiac involvement in a patient with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
      ,
      • Carretta D.M.
      • Silva A.M.
      • D’Agostino D.
      • et al.
      Cardiac involvement in COVID-19 patients: a contemporary review.
      Otherwise, many patients show symptoms of tachycardia and acute-onset HF until to cardiogenic shock or sudden cardiac death.
      • Zeng J.-H.
      • Liu Y.-X.
      • Yuan J.
      • et al.
      First case of COVID-19 complicated with fulminant myocarditis: a case report and insights.
      • Frustaci A.
      • Francone M.
      • Verardo R.
      • et al.
      Virus-negative necrotizing coronary vasculitis with aneurysm formation in human SARS-CoV-2 infection.
      • Lavalle C.
      • Ricci R.P.
      • Santini M.
      Atrial tachyarrhythmias and cardiac resynchronisation therapy: clinical and therapeutic implications.
      • Di Biase L.
      • Romero J.
      • Du X.
      • et al.
      Catheter ablation of ventricular tachycardia in ischemic cardiomyopathy: impact of concomitant amiodarone therapy on short- and long-term clinical outcomes.
      The early signs of fulminant myocarditis usually look similar to those of sepsis: hyperpiesia with low pulse pressure, cold or mottled extremities, and sinus tachycardia. Fulminant myocarditis is also frequently associated with ventricular arrhythmias because massive myocardial necrosis may generate some micro-reentry circuits and induce an electrolyte imbalance that triggers malignant tachycardia.
      • Di Biase L.
      • Romero J.
      • Zado E.S.
      • et al.
      Variant of ventricular outflow tract ventricular arrhythmias requiring ablation from multiple sites: intramural origin.
      • Lakkireddy D.R.
      • Chung M.K.
      • Gopinathannair R.
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      Guidance for cardiac Electrophysiology during the COVID-19 Pandemic from the heart Rhythm Society COVID-19 Task Force; Electrophysiology section of the American College of Cardiology; and the Electrocardiography and arrhythmias Committee of the Council on clinical Cardiology, American heart association.
      • Wu C.-I.
      • Postema P.G.
      • Arbelo E.
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      SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, and Inherited arrhythmia syndromes.
      Overall, cardiac arrhythmias are frequently seen in patients with COVID-19 affected by myocarditis: several studies reported an incidence of cardiac arrhythmias between 15% and 20%.
      • Coromilas E.J.
      • Kochav S.
      • Goldenthal I.
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      Worldwide Survey of COVID-19–associated arrhythmias.
      ,
      • Liu K.
      • Fang Y.-Y.
      • Deng Y.
      • et al.
      Clinical characteristics of novel coronavirus cases in Tertiary hospitals in Hubei Province.
      The exact nature of the arrhythmias was not clearly reported but it has been speculated that their possible pathophysiology could include direct injury to cardiomyocytes and conduction system, ischemia from microvascular disease, reentrant arrhythmias due to myocardial fibrosis or scars, and proinflammatory cytokines predisposing to arrhythmogenicity (Fig. 2).
      • Bhatla A.
      • Mayer M.M.
      • Adusumalli S.
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      COVID-19 and cardiac arrhythmias.
      ,
      • Wu C.-I.
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      • Arbelo E.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, and Inherited arrhythmia syndromes.
      ,
      • Della Rocca D.G.
      • Pepine C.J.
      Endothelium as a Predictor of adverse outcomes: Endothelium as a Predictor of adverse outcomes.
      Figure thumbnail gr2
      Fig. 2Possible mechanism of arrhythmogenesis in COVID-19 myocarditis.

      Diagnosis

      In patients with COVID-19, the criteria for the diagnosis of myocarditis are the same as in other patients. However, the diagnostic pathway may be different because it is conditioned, first of all, by the need to protect all health care operators from the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
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      • Flamigni F.
      • Rapezzi C.
      • et al.
      Myocarditis in COVID-19 patients: current Problems.
      In Fig. 3 we provide a flow-chart for the diagnosis of COVID-19 myocarditis, considering troponin assessment as the first step in the diagnostic work up, because it can be easily performed and its level is usually elevated in COVID-19–related myocarditis.
      • Richardson S.
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      • Crawford J.M.
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      • Davidson K.W.
      • Barnaby D.P.
      • Becker L.B.
      • Chelico J.D.
      • et al.
      the Northwell COVID-19 Research Consortium
      Presenting characteristics, comorbidities, and outcomes among 5700 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the New York city Area.
      ,
      • Inciardi R.M.
      • Lupi L.
      • Zaccone G.
      • et al.
      Cardiac involvement in a patient with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
      However, even in the presence of normal troponin if clinical suspicion of myocarditis is strong, cardiologic examinations should be performed. A fundamental step in the diagnostic process is the exclusion of obstructive coronary artery disease because high troponin level could be the result of exacerbation of patient’s subclinical coronary artery disease due to inflammatory state, which increases cardiac oxygen demand. The oxygen supply–demand mismatch could in turn precipitate ischemia, resulting in type 2 myocardial infarction.
      • Di Biase L.
      • Romero J.
      • Du X.
      • et al.
      Catheter ablation of ventricular tachycardia in ischemic cardiomyopathy: impact of concomitant amiodarone therapy on short- and long-term clinical outcomes.
      ,
      • Clerkin K.J.
      • Fried J.A.
      • Raikhelkar J.
      • et al.
      COVID-19 and cardiovascular disease.
      ,
      • Chimenti C.
      • Scopelliti F.
      • Vulpis E.
      • et al.
      Increased Oxidative stress Contributes to cardiomyocyte dysfunction and death in patients with Fabry disease Cardiomyopathy.
      Figure thumbnail gr3
      Fig. 3Proposed flow-chart for the diagnosis of COVID-19 myocarditis. CAD, coronary artery disease; CMR, cardiac magnetic resonance; COVID-19, coronavirus disease 2019; CTA, computed tomography angiography; EMB, endomyocardial biopsy; PCI, percutaneous coronary intervention.
      Electrocardiographic (ECG) changes are not pathognomonic in myocarditis, because a variety of ECG patterns from sinus tachycardia and ectopic beats to ST elevation and T-wave inversion have been described.
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      Predictive value of Fragmented QRS in primary prevention Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator Recipients with left ventricular dysfunction.
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      T-wave inversion as a manifestation of COVID-19 infection: a case Series.
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      Simple Electrocardiographic criteria for Rapid Identification of Wide QRS Complex tachycardia: the new Limb Lead Algorithm.
      Other ECG abnormalities, including new-onset bundle branch block, QT prolongation, pseudoinfarct pattern, and bradyarrhythmia with advanced atrioventricular nodal block, can be observed in myocarditis.
      Transthoracic echocardiography is the first imaging technique performed and can be coupled with pulmonary ultrasound evaluation.
      • D’Andrea Antonello
      • Di Giannuario Giovanna
      • Marrazzo Gemma
      • et al.
      L’imaging integrato nel percorso del paziente con COVID-19: dalla diagnosi, al monitoraggio clinico, alla prognosi.
      Global and regional ventricular systolic dysfunctions are not specific markers of acute myocarditis: ventricular dysfunction could be due to several other cardiac diseases, and, on the other hand, patients with myocarditis may have a normal left ventricular function. In addition, the possibility of a preexisting ventricular dysfunction should be always taken into consideration, especially if the patient has known cardiovascular risk factors. Echocardiography also has prognostic implications; patients with marked reduction in right ventricular function have an increased risk of death.
      • Szekely Y.
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      Spectrum of cardiac manifestations in COVID-19: a Systematic echocardiographic study.
      Thus, in patients with elevated troponin the presence of normal ECG and echocardiogram cannot exclude completely a COVID-19 myocarditis, and a close cardiologic follow-up should be performed.
      Cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) should be always performed in case of abnormal ECG and/or echocardiogram, and the findings should be interpreted according to the revised Lake Louise consensus criteria.
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      Cardiovascular magnetic resonance in myocarditis: a JACC white paper.
      ,
      • Ferreira V.M.
      • Schulz-Menger J.
      • Holmvang G.
      • et al.
      Cardiovascular magnetic resonance in Nonischemic myocardial inflammation.
      In clinically stable patients, both CMR and coronary computed tomography could be theoretically performed for myocarditis diagnosis in a radiology section dedicated to patients with COVID-19. CMR is used in patients with COVID-19 to assess biventricular function, the pattern of edema and inflammation within the myocardium, and the presence of pericardial involvement. The common imaging findings on CMR included increased T1 and T2 mapping values and edema on T2/STIR sequences.
      • Ojha V.
      • Verma M.
      • Pandey N.N.
      • et al.
      Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): a Systematic review of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging findings in 199 patients.
      Diffuse edema may be considered the only CMR hallmark of COVID-19 myocarditis because late gadolinium enhancement (LGE) may be completely absent or minimal, revealing unremarkable myocyte necrosis.
      • Esposito A.
      • Palmisano A.
      • Natale L.
      • et al.
      Cardiac magnetic resonance Characterization of myocarditis-like acute cardiac syndrome in COVID-19.
      LGE was seen in less than half of the patients, and if present, LGE was detected in the subepicardial location.
      • Ojha V.
      • Verma M.
      • Pandey N.N.
      • et al.
      Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): a Systematic review of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging findings in 199 patients.
      The presence of biventricular dysfunction; the detection of patchy, midwall, septal, or inferior LGE enhancement; and its persistence over 3 months have been associated with adverse cardiac events including sudden cardiac death and heart transplantation.
      • Caforio A.L.P.
      • Calabrese F.
      • Angelini A.
      • et al.
      A Prospective study of biopsy-Proven myocarditis: prognostic relevance of clinical and Aetiopathogenetic Features at diagnosis.
      • Grün S.
      • Schumm J.
      • Greulich S.
      • et al.
      Long-term follow-up of biopsy-Proven viral myocarditis.
      • Gräni C.
      • Eichhorn C.
      • Bière L.
      • et al.
      Prognostic value of cardiac magnetic resonance tissue Characterization in risk Stratifying patients with suspected myocarditis.
      In selected cases with CMR that suggest myocarditis, an EMB may be performed. The consensus paper from the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology recommended EMB preferably in new-onset HF with hemodynamic instability or in life-threatening arrhythmias to establish the specific therapy.
      • Cooper L.T.
      • Baughman K.L.
      • Feldman A.M.
      • et al.
      The role of endomyocardial biopsy in the management of cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American heart association, the American College of Cardiology, and the European society of Cardiology.
      ,
      • Tarantino N.
      • Della Rocca D.G.
      • De Leon De La Cruz N.S.
      • et al.
      Catheter ablation of life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias in Athletes.
      Although EMB is definitive for the diagnosis, it is rarely used in patients with COVID-19 probably to limit spread of the infection to medical workers. When performed, the EMB showed scattered myocyte necrosis and CD4 and CD8 lymphocytes near vascular structures in patients with mild troponin elevation,
      • Ojha V.
      • Verma M.
      • Pandey N.N.
      • et al.
      Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): a Systematic review of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging findings in 199 patients.
      ,
      • Fox S.E.
      • Li G.
      • Akmatbekov A.
      • et al.
      Unexpected features of cardiac pathology in COVID-19 infection.
      whereas patients with more severe clinical presentations had interstitial inflammation and vasculitis of intramural vessels represented by T-lymphocytes and CD68+ macrophages, associated to foci of necrosis (Fig. 4). The macrophage infiltration was seen to correlate with the elevated systemic levels of proinflammatory cytokines. Although coronary involvement was uncommon, endotheliitis was commonly encountered because virus showed tropism for endothelial cells.
      • Frustaci A.
      • Francone M.
      • Verardo R.
      • et al.
      Virus-negative necrotizing coronary vasculitis with aneurysm formation in human SARS-CoV-2 infection.
      ,
      • Fox S.E.
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      • Rinker E.B.
      • et al.
      Cardiac endotheliitis and multisystem inflammatory syndrome after COVID-19.
      Figure thumbnail gr4
      Fig. 4Left ventricular endomyocardial biopsy of a patient with COVID-19 myocarditis. (A) Focal active myocarditis depicted by lymphomononuclear infiltrated (arrows) with necrosis of the adjacent cardiomyocytes (hematoxylin and eosin 10X magnification). (B) Myocarditis was associated with vasculitis of intramural vessels (hematoxylin and eosin 20X magnification).

      Treatment

      The management of COVID-19 myocarditis is firstly finalized to provide a comprehensive management of HF.
      • Agdamag A.C.C.
      • Edmiston J.B.
      • Charpentier V.
      • et al.
      Update on COVID-19 myocarditis.
      However, a prompt treatment of respiratory symptoms aiming to promote viral clearance may have an additional benefit of reducing subsequent cardiovascular complications.

      Management of Heart Failure

      Patients who develop HF from COVID-19 myocarditis should be treated with guideline-directed medical therapy, including ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), or angiotensin receptor-neprilysin inhibitors (ARNi), β-blockers and diuretics.
      • McDonagh T.A.
      • Metra M.
      • Adamo M.
      • et al.
      2021 ESC guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic heart failure.
      Because of their mechanism of action, there was initial concern that treating patients with COVID-19 with ACEi, ARB, and ARNi would worsen clinical outcomes. Thus, several recent observational studies showed that there was no significant difference between patients treated with ACEi or ARB and those who discontinue these medications and, therefore, is generally recommended to initiate or continue these drugs during and beyond the disease.
      • Lopes R.D.
      • Macedo A.V.S.
      • de Barros E Silva P.G.M.
      • et al.
      Effect of discontinuing vs continuing angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers on days alive and out of the hospital in patients admitted with COVID-19: a randomized clinical trial.
      ,
      • Mehra M.R.
      • Desai S.S.
      • Kuy S.
      • et al.
      Retraction: cardiovascular disease, drug therapy, and mortality in covid-19.
      In patients with fulminant myocarditis and cardiogenic shock, the administration of inotropes and/or vasopressors is recommended in the acute phase and mechanical circulatory support in the longer term.
      • Kociol R.D.
      • Cooper L.T.
      • Fang J.C.
      • et al.
      Recognition and initial management of fulminant myocarditis: a scientific statement from the American heart association.
      Appropriate management of cardiac arrhythmias related to COVID-19 myocarditis is crucial in mitigating patient’s adverse health outcomes. Bradyarrhythmia may require temporary cardiac pacing, whereas tachyarrhythmias may respond to antiarrhythmic drugs. β-blockers may be considered for hemodynamically stable patients, whereas amiodarone is typically administered in the critically ill, although it can prompt QTc prolongation, especially when combined with azithromycin or hydroxychloroquine.
      • Mercuro N.J.
      • Yen C.F.
      • Shim D.J.
      • et al.
      Risk of QT interval prolongation associated with use of hydroxychloroquine with or without concomitant azithromycin among hospitalized patients Testing positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
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      Arrhythmic safety of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients from different clinical Settings.
      • Frustaci A.
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      • Antuzzi D.
      • et al.
      Inhibition of cardiomyocyte lysosomal activity in hydroxychloroquine cardiomyopathy.
      Alternatively, lidocaine infusion or oral flecainide may be considered.
      • Lavalle C.
      • Magnocavallo M.
      • Straito M.
      • et al.
      Flecainide how and when: a practical guide in supraventricular arrhythmias.
      • Lavalle C.
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      • Vetta G.
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      Flecainide in ventricular arrhythmias: from old myths to new perspectives.
      • Della Rocca D.G.
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      • Trivedi C.
      • et al.
      Non-pulmonary vein triggers in nonparoxysmal atrial fibrillation: implications of pathophysiology for Catheter Ablation.

      SARS-CoV-2 Viral Therapies

      Therapies for SARS-CoV-2 have focused primarily on restoration of respiratory function, and there are little data to define therapeutic options in COVID-19 myocarditis. Different antiviral therapies were expected to be effective in hospitalized patients with COVID-19: remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, and interferon beta-1a. Unfortunately, all these drugs had little or no effect on overall mortality, initiation of ventilation, and duration of hospital stay.
      WHO Solidarity trial Consortium Repurposed Antiviral drugs for Covid-19 — Interim WHO Solidarity trial results.
      ,
      The RECOVERY Collaborative group effect of hydroxychloroquine in hospitalized patients with Covid-19.
      Moreover, many pharmacologic agents used empirically to treat COVID-19, especially hydroxychloroquine, may expose patients to an increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias: indeed, hydroxychloroquine may cause QTc interval prolongation, and its combination therapy with macrolides should be accompanied by QTc interval monitoring.
      • Piro A.
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      • Della Rocca D.G.
      • et al.
      Management of cardiac Implantable Electronic Device follow-up in COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned during Italian Lockdown.
      Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs are generally not indicated in myocarditis patients because they are the known cause of renal impairment and sodium retention, which could exacerbate acute ventricular dysfunction.
      • Kociol R.D.
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      • et al.
      Recognition and initial management of fulminant myocarditis: a scientific statement from the American heart association.
      Because cytokine release syndrome is a probable mechanism of injury in COVID-19 myocarditis, some investigators suggested to use antiinflammatory and anticytokine drugs such as high-dose steroids and intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG).
      • Mehta P.
      • McAuley D.F.
      • Brown M.
      • et al.
      COVID-19: Consider cytokine storm syndromes and Immunosuppression.
      However, the use of high-dose steroids in patients with COVID-19 has given conflicting results: if in a retrospective study there was an improvement of survival, another trial showed a reduction in viral clearance, increased risk of over infection, and mortality for all causes.
      • Wu C.
      • Chen X.
      • Cai Y.
      • et al.
      Risk factors associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in patients with coronavirus disease 2019 pneumonia in Wuhan, China.
      • Russell C.D.
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      Clinical evidence does not support corticosteroid treatment for 2019-NCoV Lung injury.
      • Frustaci A.
      • Chimenti C.
      Immunosuppressive therapy in myocarditis.
      Overall, in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 the use of corticosteroid resulted in a clinical benefit only in those who were receiving invasive mechanical ventilation and oxygen therapy.
      The RECOVERY Collaborative group Dexamethasone in hospitalized patients with Covid-19.
      Regarding purified IVIG, they gave encouraging result in a small group of 5 critical patients with COVID-19 without clinically suspected myocarditis but no additional evidence exists in patients with COVID-19–established myocarditis.
      • Shen C.
      • Wang Z.
      • Zhao F.
      • et al.
      Treatment of 5 critically ill patients with COVID-19 with Convalescent Plasma.
      The immunomodulatory effects of IVIG are multifactorial, showing not only antiviral effects but also antiinflammatory effects by suppressing inflammatory cytokines.
      • Kow C.S.
      • Hasan S.S.
      Glucocorticoid versus immunoglobulin in the treatment of COVID-19-associated fulminant myocarditis.
      Currently, the evidence does not support the routine use of IVIGs alone.
      Several immune therapies have also been investigated, and agents targeting IL-6, such as tocilizumab, have also been evaluated in the REMAP-CAP study, showing promising results in critically ill patients.
      The REMAP-CAP Investigators interleukin-6 receptor antagonists in critically ill patients with Covid-19.
      In summary, in patients with isolated SARS-CoV-2 myocarditis who are hospitalized, or hypoxemic, high-dose steroids may be reasonable, whereas it should be avoided in patients with less severe illness. Regarding targeted immunomodulatory therapy with IL-6 antagonists, additional data are needed to establish whether it can be recommended for SARS- CoV-2 myocarditis.

      Prognosis

      Although there are very limited data about the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 myocarditis, it seems that most patients have a favorable prognosis.
      • Esposito A.
      • Palmisano A.
      • Natale L.
      • et al.
      Cardiac magnetic resonance Characterization of myocarditis-like acute cardiac syndrome in COVID-19.
      ,
      • Sawalha K.
      • Abozenah M.
      • Kadado A.J.
      • et al.
      Systematic review of COVID-19 related myocarditis: Insights on management and outcome.
      The complexity of COVID-19 and the possibility to die of other reasons than cardiac involvement (acute severe respiratory distress, systemic embolism, multiorgan failure) should also be underlined. Overall, Shi and colleagues reported that patients with myocardial injury presented higher mortality rate than those without myocardial injury (51.2% vs 4.5%; P < .001), being an independent risk factor for mortality.
      • Shi S.
      • Qin M.
      • Shen B.
      • et al.
      Association of cardiac injury with mortality in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China.
      In addition, myocardial injury was associated with a higher incidence of severe respiratory distress (58.5% vs 14.7%), need of noninvasive (46.3% vs 3.9%) or invasive ventilation (22.0% vs 4.2%), and complications such as acute kidney injury (8.5% vs 0.3%) and coagulopathy (7.3% vs 1.8%).
      • Shi S.
      • Qin M.
      • Shen B.
      • et al.
      Association of cardiac injury with mortality in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China.
      Also, patients with an increase of troponin present higher levels of leukocytes, D-dimer, ferritin, and IL-6, portraying an important correlation between myocardial injury and inflammatory hyperactivity triggered by the viral infection. Raised troponin levels in COVID-19 are associated with worse outcome, but the specific prognostic role of myocarditis is unknown.
      • Castiello T.
      • Georgiopoulos G.
      • Finocchiaro G.
      • et al.
      COVID-19 and myocarditis: a systematic review and overview of current challenges.
      In general, myocardial involvement in COVID-19 is associated with an increased mortality, but isolated myocarditis is not necessarily a marker of poor prognosis. However, given the paucity of published data and the inhomogeneity of the cases, conclusive assertion on prognosis cannot be made.

      Summary

      Myocarditis is a common complication of COVID-19 infection. Direct viral damage or cell-mediated cytotoxicity are the 2 likely pathophysiological mechanisms. Although CMR represents the most important diagnostic tool because diffuse edema may be considered the only CMR hallmark of COVID-19 myocarditis, the definitive diagnosis of myocarditis is obtained via EMB. Treatment of myocarditis should be based on therapy for ventricular dysfunction and clinical status, including arrhythmias and HF, whereas high-dose steroids should be reserved to more compromised patients. Myocardial involvement in COVID-19 is associated with an increased mortality, but isolated myocarditis is not necessarily a marker of poor prognosis.

      Clinics care points

      • Myocarditis are very frequent among COVID-19 patients.
      • A comprehensive diagnostic approach should be pursued in these patients.
      • Endomyocardial biopsy is necessary to exclude other form of myocarditis.

      Disclosure

      All authors have reported that they have no relationships relevant to the contents of this article to disclose.

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