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by Laurie Rosenblum, MPH
Pericarditis is irritation and swelling of the sac that surrounds the heart. The sac, called the pericardium, is made up of 2 thin layers and a small amount of fluid that sits between the layers. Since the sac surrounds the heart, swelling of the sac can make it difficult for the heart to work properly.
The cause of pericarditis is often unknown. Potential causes include:
Risk Factors TOP
A weakened immune system may increase your chances of pericarditis.
A common symptom of pericarditis is a sharp, stabbing chest pain. The pain is often over the left side or center of the chest and may spread to the neck and shoulders. Deep breathing or lying down may worsen the pain and sitting up may lessen it.
Other symptoms may include:
The doctor will ask about your pain, other symptoms, and medical history. A physical exam will be done including listening to the heart or lungs for abnormal sounds. The swollen layers can rub against the heart and create a unique sound that can be heard with a stethoscope. To confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of the condition, images of the heart and chest may be taken with:
Bodily fluids may also need to be tested to look for infections. Fluids may be found through:
The main goals of treatment are to relieve pain and swelling and treat any underlying causes. If an infection is present an antibiotic or other medication may be recommended.
Rest, over-the-counter pain medications, and monitoring may be all that is needed for mild pericarditis. The inflammation usually passes within a few weeks or months.
Pericarditis can also be an emergency situation. More severe pericarditis may need advance treatment and hospitalization to manage complications. If the swelling is making it difficult for the heart to beat, fluid may need to be removed. A procedure called pericardiocentesis removes the fluid with a needle. In rare cases, surgery may be done to open the sac to relieve pressure on the heart.
Some types of pericarditis are caused by chronic inflammatory diseases, like systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis. These forms of pericarditis may last longer or tend to recur. A treatment plan will be created to help decrease the risk of future incidents.
There are no current guidelines to prevent acute pericarditis.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Acute and recurrent pericarditis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated September 26, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017.
Pericarditis. Texas Heart Institute website. Available at
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated August 2016. Accessed November 30, 2017.
What is pericarditis? American Heart Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated July 5, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017.
11/4/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. Available at: http://www.dynamed...: Imazio M, Brucato A, et al. A randomized trial of colchicine for acute pericarditis. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(16):1522-1528.
Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 12/20/2014
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