Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine carries some risk of heart disease. However, reports of heart inflammation have been rare, and most people who experience symptoms recover quickly.

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It is important to note that while some individuals have reported heart symptoms after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, these are very uncommon.

COVID-19 also carries a risk of heart inflammation, and health experts consider that the risks of the virus are far greater than those of the vaccine. Researchers have found that even a mild COVID-19 infection can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease.

This article will explain the current research on the COVID-19 vaccine, heart disease, and the next steps for those who experience side effects involving the heart.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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A small proportion of people who take the COVID-19 vaccine report heart inflammation afterward.

There are two types of reported inflammation: myocarditis, which refers to an inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, which involves an inflammation of the heart’s outer lining.

Heart inflammation is the immune system’s natural reaction to infection or injury of the heart. White blood cells instruct the body to direct more blood toward the area, which contributes to a range of symptoms.

Infections with viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, commonly cause heart inflammation. However, in rare instances, vaccines can also be responsible.

Myocarditis symptoms

Inflammation of the heart muscle can lead to:

  • chest pain
  • discomfort
  • loss of consciousness
  • breathlessness
  • extreme fatigue
  • stomach pain
  • inability to exercise
  • fever
  • reduced or lost appetite
  • swelling in the feet and legs
  • feeling weak

Learn more about myocarditis.

Pericarditis symptoms

Pericarditis causes fewer symptoms than myocarditis. However, it can cause a distinctive type of chest pain that:

  • feels sharp
  • feels worse while taking a breath
  • gets better while leaning forward and sitting upright

This type of heart inflammation can also lead to:

  • a rapid heartbeat
  • breathlessness
  • fever

Learn more about pericarditis.

Because the COVID-19 vaccine is still relatively new, experts do not know exactly how common heart side effects are. However, several studies have examined how common myocarditis is among those receiving the COVID mRNA vaccine.

A study of 23.1 million residents of four Nordic countries found that the risk of myocarditis was highest in males aged 16–24 years, reporting nine to 28 excess events in every 100,000 vaccine recipients. The risk was higher after receiving the Moderna vaccine than from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the risk climbing after the second dose.

A different review of 22 studies reported a mean of 18.2 cases of myopericarditis per million doses. The prevalence was lower than after smallpox vaccines and about the same as influenza vaccines.

Despite studies showing some postvaccine evidence of myocarditis and pericarditis, both are rare developments. Research is ongoing into the long-term effects.

Males under 30 years of age have the highest risk of myocarditis and pericarditis after a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. Both of the above studies found that young males who received a second dose of the vaccine had the highest risk of heart inflammation.

However, the authors of both studies also stated that the risk remains low. They add that doctors should aim to balance this against the risk of heart inflammation after acquiring the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that for every one million males aged 12–17 years who took the vaccine, about 56–69 would develop myocarditis. However, they went on to suggest that this number of young males taking the vaccine would prevent 5,700 COVID-19 transmissions, 215 admissions to the hospital, and two deaths.

According to recent studies, COVID-19 carries a greater risk of heart inflammation than the vaccine.

A 2021 study used the health records of around 2 million people. It found that an additional 2.7 cases of myocarditis presented per 100,000 people who took the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

It also found there were 11 cases of myocarditis for every 100,00 individuals who had COVID-19.

Yes, it is. The American Heart Association (AHA) maintains that it is safe for the following individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine:

  • people with cardiovascular risk factors
  • those with heart disease
  • survivors of stroke or heart attack

This is because the effects of the virus pose a higher risk of complications than the vaccine.

People who notice symptoms of myocarditis or pericarditis after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine should speak with a doctor urgently. Symptoms most often show within a week of vaccination, so individuals should keep an eye out for symptoms during this time.

Most people with heart inflammation who seek medical care respond well to medication and can return to everyday activities as soon as symptoms improve.

It is understandable to have concerns about any vaccine that can, in rare cases, affect the heart. However, balancing these concerns against the potential cardiac effects of COVID-19 is the best way to make a personal decision on a sensitive medical topic.

While the COVID-19 vaccines can cause heart inflammation as a side effect, people who acquire the SARS-CoV-2 virus have a higher risk of serious heart problems than those who receive the vaccine.