What is pericarditis?
Pericarditis is swelling and irritation of the pericardium, which is the sac that surrounds your heart.
Pericarditis usually doesn't cause serious problems. Most people get better in 7 to 10 days. When there are problems, they may include:
- A buildup of fluid in the pericardial sac (pericardial effusion).
- Sudden pressure on the heart and sudden difficulty pumping enough blood (called cardiac tamponade). This can be caused by the weight and pressure of the fluid buildup if it happens quickly.
- Constrictive pericarditis, which can occur when pericarditis comes back or becomes a longer-term problem. The sac around the heart gets thick and stiff. This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood.
What causes pericarditis?
Many things can cause pericarditis, including:
- Viral infection. This is the most common cause.
- Heart attack.
- Chest injury.
- Recent heart surgery.
- Certain diseases, such as HIV, lupus, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, or tuberculosis.
- Medicine side effects, including cancer treatments.
In many cases, the cause is not known.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom is a sharp pain in the center or left side of your chest. The pain may spread to the shoulder blade. For some people, this pain is dull instead of sharp. It may be worse when you lie down or take a deep breath.
The pain lasts for hours or days and doesn't get better when you rest. It's different from a type of chest pain called angina, which only lasts a short time and usually gets better with rest.
Other symptoms may include a mild fever, weakness, feeling very tired, coughing, hiccups, and muscle aches.
Pericarditis usually isn't dangerous. But your chest pain could be caused by something more serious, like a heart attack. Getting diagnosed and treated early can help keep pericarditis from leading to other problems. That's why you should call a doctor right away if you have any kind of sudden chest pain.
How is pericarditis diagnosed?
Your doctor will listen to your heart during a physical exam. He or she will also ask questions about your medical history, such as whether you've had a recent illness, radiation treatment for cancer, or tuberculosis.
Your doctor may want you to have some tests, including an electrocardiogram, a chest X-ray, and blood tests.
If the chest X-ray shows any fluid buildup, or if you have new or worse symptoms, such as shortness of breath, your doctor may want you to have a test called an echocardiogram.
How is it treated?
If there are no other problems, pericarditis usually goes away on its own in a few weeks. During this time:
- Try aspirin, ibuprofen, or another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to reduce pain. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe stronger medicine. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Get plenty of rest. Avoid all strenuous activity that has not been approved by your doctor.
- Follow your doctor's advice about what problems to watch for, such as shortness of breath or other signs of complications.
Be sure to keep all follow-up appointments with your doctor. If you have complications or the illness gets worse, you may need further treatment. This could include medicines or a procedure to relieve the fluid and pressure around your heart (pericardiocentesis).
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about pericarditis:
Other Places To Get Help
|American Heart Association (AHA)|
|7272 Greenville Avenue|
|Dallas, TX 75231|
Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support.
CardioSmart is an online education and support program that can be your partner in heart health. This website engages, informs, and empowers people to take part in their own care and to work well with their health care teams. It has tools and resources to help you prevent, treat, and/or manage heart diseases.
You can set health and wellness goals and track your progress with online tools. You can track your weight, waist measurement, blood pressure, and activity. You can use calculators to help you find your body mass index (BMI) and check your risk for heart problems. You can search for a cardiologist. And you can find medicine information and prepare for your next appointment. Also, you can join online communities to connect with peers and take heart-healthy challenges.
CardioSmart was designed by cardiovascular professionals at the American College of Cardiology, a nonprofit medical society. Members include doctors, nurses, and surgeons.
|National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)|
|P.O. Box 30105|
|Bethesda, MD 20824-0105|
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:
Other Works Consulted
- Hoit BD (2011). Pericardial disease. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's the Heart, 13th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1917–1939. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- LeWinter MM, Tischler MD (2012). Pericardial diseases. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1651–1671. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Maisch B, et al. (2004). Guidelines on the diagnosis and management of pericardial diseases. Executive summary. European Heart Journal, 25(7): 587–610.
- Welch TD, et al. (2012). Diseases of the pericardium, cardiac tumors, and cardiac trauma. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 4, chap. 16. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology|
|Last Revised||April 2, 2013|
Last Revised: April 2, 2013
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.