What is pericarditis?

Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin sac (membrane) that surrounds the heart. There is a small amount of fluid between the inner and outer layers of the pericardium. When the pericardium becomes inflamed, the amount of fluid between its two layers increases, compressing the heart and interfering with its ability to function properly.

What are the symptoms of pericarditis?

The following are the most common indicators of pericarditis. However, individuals may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • chest pain that:
    • can especially be felt behind the breastbone, sometimes felt beneath the clavicle (collarbone), neck, and left shoulder.
    • is a sharp, piercing pain over the center or left side of the chest that increases if the person takes a deep breath.
  • a low-grade fever
  • pain when swallowing
  • arrhythmias (irregular heart beats)

The symptoms of pericarditis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult a physician for diagnosis.

What causes pericarditis?

Usually, the cause of pericarditis is unknown, but may include any/all of the following:

  • heart attack
  • infection (viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic)
  • chest trauma or injury
  • cancer spreading from a nearby tumor in the lung, breast, or the blood
  • connective tissue disorders (i.e., lupus erythematosus)
  • heart surgery

Treatment for pericarditis:

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • cause of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment for pericarditis is to determine and eliminate the cause of the disease. Treatment may include:

  • medication (i.e., analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • aspiration of excess fluid
  • surgery

Pericarditis may last from two to six weeks, and there may be a recurrence of the disorder.