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).
- Immediate 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.
How is pericarditis diagnosed?
Your doctor will listen to your heart during a physical exam. The doctor will also ask some of the questions about your medical history, like whether you've had a recent illness, radiation treatment for cancer, or tuberculosis.
Your doctor would like to have some tests, including an electrocardiogram, a chest X-ray, and blood tests.
If the chest X-ray comes up with any fluid buildup, or if you have new or worse symptoms, such as shortness of breath, your doctor would like to have a test called an echocardiogram performed on you.
What are the symptoms of Pericarditis?
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.
Pericarditis generally isn't dangerous. But your chest pain can 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 treated?
If there are no other issues present, pericarditis generally goes by its own in a couple of weeks. During this time:
- You can try aspirin, ibuprofen, or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to lower down the pain. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe stronger medicine called colchicine. 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.
- Go with 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 are having some of the complications or the illness gets worse, you may need further treatment.
This can further include medicines or a procedure to relieve the fluid and pressure around your heart (pericardiocentesis).