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MSNBC anchor opens up about health scare that led to inflammation of her heart

Yasmin Vossoughian says frightening heart symptoms turned her January into a "nightmare." Her cardiologist shares warning signs to pay attention to.
/ Source: TODAY

MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian is urging others to listen to their body after her bout with the common cold led to heart inflammation that an urgent care initially dismissed as “reflux.”

She had to be hospitalized twice before her cardiologist got the situation under control.

“The only person who knows how you feel or what you’re feeling or when you need help is you,” Vossoughian said in a Jan. 28 television segment devoted to her health scare.

“Take nothing for granted. You may be doing everything in life right, as I felt like I was, and a cold virus can become so much more through no fault of your own.”

Heart attack worries

The ordeal began on Dec. 20, 2022, when Vossoughian said she began to feel chest pains that waxed and waned over the next 10 days.

As a healthy person who doesn’t smoke or eat meat, runs several times a week and practices yoga, the journalist didn’t know what to make of it.

But as the chest pains continued to get worse, she started to think something was actually wrong and sought medical help on Dec. 30.

“I finally went to an urgent care and was told I had reflux. I didn’t really buy it, but I was relieved it wasn’t my heart. My body, though, was pretty certain not to believe the reflux,” Vossoughian, 44, recalled.

The next day, she woke up with severe pains in her chest and left shoulder. It felt like a tightening when she took deep breaths, which got worse when she was lying flat. She worried she was having a heart attack so her husband drove her to the emergency room where “the nightmare that has been my January began,” the journalist said.

Vossoughian was diagnosed with pericarditis — inflammation of the sac-like structure that surrounds the heart. It can be caused by viral, bacterial, fungal and other infections, and may feel like pain from a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association.

Vossoughian also had fluid around her heart that had to be drained to prevent it from hindering her heartbeat. She was hospitalized for four nights and transferred from a local hospital to NYU Langone in New York City.

She was discharged on Jan. 4 with hopes she was getting better, but that wasn't the end of the ordeal.

'I’m wondering: Is this it?'

Vossoughian had to be readmitted to the hospital three days later when she felt her heart fluttering, a sensation she likened to having a butterfly inside her chest.

The diagnosis: myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle that can weaken the heart, impacting its ability to pump blood, according to the American Heart Association. That can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat. The serious condition is rare and can be caused by a viral infection such as a cold or flu, though the cause is often a mystery, the organization notes.

“I remember being shepherded through the emergency room and I’m wondering: Is this it?” Vossoughian recalled.

She spent five more days in the hospital where doctors determined it was still just the cold that had caused all of the inflammation in and around her heart, she said.

It can happen to anybody

It’s not so much the cold itself that’s going to the heart — it’s the way the body is responding to the cold, said Dr. Gregory Katz, a cardiologist at NYU Langone who treated Vossoughian.

“Your immune system, for most of us, just takes a couple of days to clear the virus. We have the standard runny nose, sore throat, that kind of stuff, and it’s self-limited and it goes away,” Katz noted in the MSNBC clip.

“But for a small proportion of people, they get an overactive immune response and they can have inflammation in lots of different areas.”

The overactive immune response to a virus is very unpredictable — it can happen to anybody, Katz said. It can also be caused by autoimmune disorders.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring reports of myocarditis and pericarditis after the mRNA COVID-19 vaccination. The rare cases have most frequently involved adolescents and young adult males within a week after receiving the second dose, the agency noted.

Katz said he has seen a rise in cases of pericarditis recently, though it’s unclear why. Perhaps because the season is a bit more virus-heavy than usual or perhaps because people’s immune systems are a bit different than they were due to masking and social distancing for a couple of years, he noted.

Symptoms and prevention:

That’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for symptoms and warning signs:

  • The classic symptom of pericarditis is chest pain that’s worse when you’re lying down, Katz said. It can also be worse when you’re taking a deep breath in.
  • Myocarditis don’t always produce symptoms, but warning signs can include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and a rapid heartbeat.
  • Watch for the feeling that something is off — fevers, chills and the sensation that something is wrong. “Listening to your body and paying attention to what it’s telling you is really, really important,” Katz said.

Heart inflammation is idiopathic, which means the cause is often unknown, he noted. If there were a way to prevent it, doctors would be “shouting it from the rooftops,” but since there isn’t, it’s smart to practice common precautions: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face and stay home when you’re sick, Katz advised.

Vossoughian said she’s now on the mend and will be on medication for some time to come. She called the experience a teaching moment.

“The best advocate you have in your life is yourself,” she said. “Recognize your boundaries and value because your health and your family and your friends are No. 1. Be good to yourself.”