I hope everyone enjoyed their BYE week. I don’t know about you all, but I needed it. The emotional roller coaster that occurs during Bills games is draining, so it was nice to have a stress free Sunday and enjoy a full slate of NFL action. Top it off with losses by New England and Miami, and it was perfect. Back to the regular routine this weekend, however, as Buffalo welcomes a good 3-7 Chargers team who can score tons of points. This is not going to be an easy game by any means.
I’m going to focus this week’s blog on myocarditis and give you guys a quick summary about what it is and why it’s dangerous. On Monday, Sean McDermott informed the NFL world and BillsMafia that TE Tommy Sweeney is out for the remainder of the season after being diagnosed with myocarditis, which is actually an adverse effect from his battle with COVID-19. Honestly, I don’t remember learning that Sweeney was diagnosed with the virus, but it goes to show that even NFL athletes can be hit hard with COVID and its complications.
What is Myocarditis?
Myocarditis is the inflammation of the myocardium, which is one of the muscles of the heart. Myocarditis is most commonly caused by complications from heart failure, but in Sweeney’s case, he has it from complications of a viral infection (COVID). Myocarditis can actually occur from other viruses as well, including HIV, adenovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus (which is the virus that causes Mononucleosis). Myocarditis is a very serious condition as it can result in sudden death if there are underlying cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) present.
Here is a picture of a healthy heart compared with a myocarditis infected heart from Thailand Medical:
While it will never be released to the public, what we can guess is the most likely cause is that after Sweeney experienced COVID symptoms (for probably 1-2 weeks), he then began to experience symptoms that mimic those of heart failure. These would include trouble breathing, exercise intolerance, tachypnea (fast-paced breathing), and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat). These would specifically be red flags in a 25-year-old professional athlete.
How is myocarditis diagnosed? First, once the symptoms of heart failure are reported by the patient (or player) after the virus was contracted, the suspicion should be raised of this possible complication. They will then go through some cardiac-specific tests performed by a cardiologist. Usually, an EKG will be done to assess the heart rate and rhythm looking for any abnormalities. Blood work will be done as well, looking at specific cardiac markers that include Troponin and CK-MB (creatine kinase-MB) levels. These markers can help determine if myocardial infarction (heart attack) has occurred. But they can also help determine if myocarditis is present due to myocardial necrosis (tissue death from lack of oxygen). Additionally, the “gold standard” diagnostic test for myocarditis is an endomyocardial biopsy. This test involves obtaining samples of tissue from the heart muscle to assess for infiltration of lymphocytes with dead tissue. If present, a diagnosis of myocarditis can be made.
How is myocarditis treated? A combination of supportive care measures and avoidance of sports/exercise (which is why Sweeney will not be back this season) along with cardiac medications, specifically those used to treat patients with heart failure. These medications include diuretics and beta-blockers. Diuretics will help the body rid excess fluids to help ease the workload of the heart and prevent fluid overload. Fluid overload can be a huge complication, as it can cause fluid or blood to back into the lungs causing difficulty breathing and embolisms, which can obviously cause death. Beta-blockers will help slow the heart rate down since tachycardia is likely with this condition. Surgical options such as pacemakers or LVAD’s (left ventricular assistive devices) are usually considered for patients who have myocarditis from severe heart failure, but this is not the case for Tommy Sweeney.
As you can see, this is a very serious condition that is to not be taken lightly. While I’m sure Sweeney will be fine and back on the playing field next season, this is not something to mess around with. Thank God this was caught by the cardiologist because it appears he was pretty close to returning to practice. This is probably a scary time for Sweeney, his family and friends, and teammates as well. We all need to keep him in our prayers that he can make a full recovery from this without experiencing any complications.
Thanks for reading everyone! I hope I was able to each you something!