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. Often, when the pericardium becomes inflamed, the amount of fluid between its two layers increases, causing a pericardial effusion. If the amount of fluid increases quickly, the effusion caused can impair the ability of the heart to function properly. A complication of pericarditis, which is a serious condition, is called cardiac tamponade.
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 and usually decreases if the person sits up or leans forward.
- Pain when swallowing
- Arrhythmias (irregular heart beats)
The symptoms of pericarditis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
What causes pericarditis?
Usually, the cause of pericarditis is unknown, but may include any or all of the following:
- Heart attack
- Infection (viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic)
- Chest trauma or injury
- Cancer, tuberculosis, or kidney failure
- Autoimmune disorders (i.e., systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma)
- Medical therapies (certain medications, radiation therapy)
- Heart surgery
Treatment for pericarditis
Specific treatment will be determined by your health care provider 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, anti-inflammatory drugs, or antibiotics)
- Aspiration or removal of excess fluid
Pericarditis may last from two to six weeks, and there may be a recurrence of the disorder.