Acquired viral cardiomyopathy: Country singer Randy Travis’ heart condition explained

Country singer Randy Travis is currently in critical condition at a Dallas hospital, where he is being treated for a serious heart condition called acquired viral cardiomyopathy, according to his publicist.  While heart disease is most commonly caused by conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or genetics, Travis’ condition is unique.

It was caused by a virus.

“A virus, like the same type that can sometimes cause the flu, can affect your heart and cause myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle,” Dr. Guilherme Oliveira, director of the heart failure and transplant service at University Hospitals Harrington Heart and Vascular Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, told

According to Oliveira, who did not treat Travis, acquired viral cardiomyopathy – also known as viral myocarditis – causes individual cells within the heart to become dysfunctional. This means the heart cannot contract as efficiently as it once did. Though several types of viruses can cause myocarditis, it is often difficult to assess the exact cause of the condition without a biopsy of the heart – a procedure which is not necessarily done for all patients.

“Very famously the H1N1 virus a few years back was notorious for causing this, but the influenza virus has also caused it and some other types too,” Oliveira said.

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Though acquired viral cardiomyopathy is slightly more common in patients older than 50 (Travis is 54 years old), Oliveira noted that the disease can affect anyone and that there are no known prevention methods.

“There’s no specific population that is more or less susceptible. We never know who is going to get it or when or what conditions,” Oliveira said. “There are no predisposing risk factors that we know of. It could happen to anyone”

According to TMZ, Travis initially thought he had contracted a cold.

“The thing with viral myocarditis is it is usually confused with pneumonia…The typical initial presentation is acute shortness of breath over one to two days,” Oliveira said. “People get very sick, very quickly and sometimes require admission to the ICU. It happens usually within the span of a week.”

Fortunately, acquired viral cardiomyopathy is reversible in about 50 percent of cases, according to Oliveira. Beyond that, 25 to 30 percent of patients will experience some heart dysfunction that will need to be managed with medication and doctor’s appointments for the rest of their lives. The remainder will either require a heart transplant – or die from the disease.

“Within the first six months following the diagnosis is when there is the highest chance of recovery,” Oliveira said. “People that recover usually do so within that time frame.”

Travis was recently required to spend at least 30 days at an alcohol treatment facility after he pled guilty to driving while intoxicated in January. Oliveira noted that while heavy alcohol use is not associated with acquired viral cardiomyopathy, it is associated with a similar condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

“The question here is how certain are we this is viral myocarditis?” Oliveira said. “In someone who has a history of alcohol intake, there is something called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Chronic alcohol consumption has the potential to weaken heart muscles…Whether it is viral or an exacerbation of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, we cannot be sure (without a biopsy).”