Objective: The objective of this paper is to evaluate the diagnostic role of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (CMR) in detecting myocardial inflammation in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and its differentiation from viral myocarditis.
Patients and methods: Fifty patients with suspected infective myocarditis (IM), with chest pain, dyspnoea or altered ECG, increase in troponin I and/or NT-pro BNP, with or without a history of flu-like syndrome or gastroenteritis and elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) within three to five (median four) weeks before admission, 25 active SLE patients, aged 38 ± 3 years, and 20 age-matched controls were prospectively evaluated by clinical assessment, ECG, echocardiogram and CMR. All patients underwent coronary angiography, and those with significant coronary artery disease (CAD) were excluded. CMR was performed using STIR T2-W (T2W), early T1-W (EGE) and late T1-W (LGE). Endomyocardial biopsies were performed when clinically indicated by current guidelines. Specimens were examined by immunohistological and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis.
Results: Positive coronary angiography for CAD excluded 10/50 suspected IM and 5/25 active SLE. Positive clinical criteria for acute myocarditis were fulfilled by 28/40 suspected IM and only 5/20 active SLE. CMR was positive for myocarditis in 35/40 suspected IM and in 16/20 active SLE. Endomyocardial biopsy (EMB), performed in 25/35 suspected IM and 7/16 active SLE with positive CMR, showed positive immunohistology in 18/25 suspected IM and 3/7 active SLE. Infectious genomes were identified in 24/25 suspected IM and 1/7 active SLE.
Conclusions: CMR-positive IM patients were more symptomatic than active SLE. More than half of CMR-positive patients also had positive EMB. PCR was positive in almost all IM, but unusual in SLE. Due to the subclinical presentation of SLE myocarditis and the limitations of EMB, CMR presents the best alternative for the diagnosis of SLE myocarditis.