What is pericarditis?
The pericardium helps protect the
heart from infection and allows the heart to move during each heartbeat. It consists
2 thin layers of tissue with a small amount of fluid between them. When these layers
become inflamed, they can rub against the heart. This causes chest pain. Pericarditis
most often happens after a respiratory infection. It occurs in people of all ages,
is more common in men ages 20 to 50 years.
What are the symptoms of
Pericarditis can be short-term
(acute) or long-term (chronic). The acute type occurs suddenly and typically lasts
or up to 3 weeks. The chronic type develops over time and lasts for more than 3 months.
Symptoms can vary between the types.
What causes pericarditis?
In many cases, the cause of this
condition is unknown (idiopathic pericarditis). These are possible causes:
Viral infection. This is a
common cause, often after a viral respiratory infection
Bacterial or fungal
Autoimmune diseases, such as
scleroderma and lupus
Recovery from heart
Injury or surgery to the
chest, esophagus, or heart
Radiation treatment to the
Certain types of cancer
Medicines that suppress the
How is pericarditis diagnosed?
The healthcare provider will review
your health history and ask you to describe your symptoms. You’ll also have a physical
exam. Your provider will listen to your heart to see if it makes certain sounds called
pericardial rub. You may have these tests:
Electrocardiogram (ECG). This
test records the electrical activity of your heart. During an ECG, small sticky
pads (electrodes) are placed on your chest, arms, and legs. Wires connect the pads
to a machine, which records your heart's electrical signals. Pericarditis has a
specific pattern that can be seen on an ECG. But it often needs more testing to
Lab tests. Samples of blood
or pericardial fluid may be taken and tested in a lab. These tests can help find
the cause of pericarditis.
Imaging tests of the heart or
These may include X-ray, MRI, and CT. They create pictures of the
heart or the inside of the chest. An MRI scan uses magnets and radio waves. A CT
scan uses X-rays and a computer.
Echocardiogram (echo). This
test creates a moving picture of the heart using ultrasound technology. During an
echo, a probe moved over the chest sends out harmless sound waves. These create a
picture that shows the size and shape of the heart. It shows how well the heart is
working. It also shows if fluid
How is pericarditis treated?
Treatment depends on how severe the
condition is. Treatment can address the symptoms or the cause of pericarditis. Or
address complications the condition may cause.
Treatment of symptoms. For
minor symptoms, rest may be the only treatment needed. To relieve pain and
inflammation, medicine may be prescribed. These include aspirin and ibuprofen. If
pain is severe, a strong anti-inflammatory called colchicine may be
Treatment of the cause, if
For instance, antibiotics may be prescribed. This is done if the
cause is a bacterial infection.
Serious but uncommon complications can result from both acute
and chronic pericarditis. These include:
Fluid builds up within the layers of the pericardium. This
can keep the heart from working correctly. And it prevents the right amount
of blood flow to the body. To treat this condition, a needle is inserted
into the chest wall and between the layers of the pericardium to remove the
extra fluid. Sometimes surgery may be done to remove a portion of the
Over time, scar-like tissue forms in the pericardium.
The tissue prevents the heart from expanding enough when it beats. This
keeps the heart from working correctly. Surgery to cut or remove the
pericardium is often the only treatment.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call your healthcare provider right
away if you have any symptoms of pericarditis. This is especially important if you
chest pain. Without treatment, this condition can be life-threatening.
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Callie Tayrien RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed:
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