Randy Travis suffers from viral cardiomyopathy – what is it?

by Neil Bilolikar, M.D., Beaumont cardiologist

(Photo: Reed Saxon Copyright 2004;No Tennessean)

(Photo: Reed Saxon Copyright 2004;No Tennessean)

Country singer Randy Travis, 54, underwent heart surgery today, after suffering from complications of recently acquired viral cardiomyopathy.

What exactly is viral cardiomyopathy? Viral cardiomyopathy is one of many dilated cardiomyopathies, which is the result of an infection with a virus. The types of viruses that can cause a cardiomyopathy range from the same viruses that cause the common cold and flu, to more extreme viruses. A patient may contract an illness where they are affected by this virus, and the virus may eventually affect the heart either by causing direct action against the heart muscle or through inflammatory effects.

Symptoms of viral cardiomyopathy include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • chest pain

The syndrome can present in the acute phase as a myocarditis, the symptoms for which can mimic a heart attack. The patient and treating ER doctors may think the patient is having a heart attack. However, most commonly, the patient will present one to two weeks after developing a viral illness, and feel short of breath, tired and possible occasional chest discomfort.

The cause of a viral cardiomyopathy is a virus, which is a microscopic organism that causes the common cold, the flu, other upper respiratory infections, as well as other infections in the body. It is not specifically known why certain people – as opposed to others – contract myocarditis or develop a viral cardiomyopathy; however hypotheses for this include a pre-disposing condition, such as an immunocompromised patient, those under high stress, or those with already weakened hearts.

Treatment & Prognosis

In general, people tend to recover quickly after early treatment for this condition. Conservative treatment with medications alone are effective at restoring heart function and symptoms in most patients within three to six months. Rarely, patients can present with fulminant myocarditis and heart failure with the need for temporary ventricular assist devices, which may be the procedure that Travis underwent today. These patients, should they survive the initial insult, have an excellent long term prognosis.

Travis’ sister-in-law mentioned that his mother also passed away due to a heart condition, but viral cardiomyopathies are not genetic. Travis has been treated for heavy alcohol use in the past which is associated with weakening of the heart muscle and as such, may have made him prone to develop a viral cardiomyopathy; however his cardiac condition prior to this episode is not known.

Per the USA Today, Travis, the singer of such hits as Forever and Ever, Amen, On the Other Hand and Three Wooden Crosses, was in critical condition at a Texas hospital after being admitted Sunday.

This information is for educational purposes only. Dr. Bilolikar has no first-hand knowledge of Travis’ case.
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