Background: Idiopathic giant-cell myocarditis is a rare and frequently fatal disorder. We used a multicenter data base to define the natural history of giant-cell myocarditis and the effect of treatment.
Methods: We identified 63 patients with idiopathic giant-cell myocarditis through journal announcements and direct mailings to cardiovascular centers worldwide.
Results: The patients consisted of 33 men and 30 women with an average age of 42.6 years; 88 percent were white, 5 percent were black, 5 percent were Southeast Asian or Indian, and 2 percent were Middle Eastern. Most presented with congestive heart failure (47 patients, or 75 percent), ventricular arrhythmia (9 patients, or 14 percent), or heart block (3 patients, or 5 percent), although in some cases the initial symptoms resembled those of acute myocardial infarction (4 patients). Nineteen percent had associated autoimmune disorders. The rate of survival was worse than among 111 patients with lymphocytic myocarditis in the Myocarditis Treatment Trial (P<0.001); among our patients, the rate of death or cardiac transplantation was 89 percent, and median survival was only 5.5 months from the onset of symptoms. The 22 patients treated with corticosteroids and cyclosporine, azathioprine, or both therapies survived for an average of 12.3 months, as compared with an average of 3.0 months for the 30 patients who received no immunosuppressive therapy (P=0.001). Of the 34 patients who underwent heart transplantation, 9 (26 percent) had a giant-cell infiltrate in the transplanted heart and 1 died of recurrent giant-cell myocarditis.
Conclusions: Giant-cell myocarditis is a disease of relatively young, predominantly healthy adults. Patients usually die of heart failure and ventricular arrhythmia unless cardiac transplantation is performed. Despite the possibility of fatal disease recurrence, transplantation is the treatment of choice for most patients.