Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin sac (membrane) that surrounds the heart.
The pericardium holds the heart in place and helps it work properly. There is a small amount of fluid between the inner and outer layers of the pericardium. This fluid keeps the layers from rubbing as the heart moves to pump blood.
Usually, the cause of pericarditis is unknown, but may include:
The following are the most common signs of pericarditis:
The symptoms of pericarditis may look like other conditions. See a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
If your healthcare provider suspects pericarditis, he or she will listen to your heart very carefully. A common sign of pericarditis is a pericardial rub. This is the sound of the pericardium rubbing against the outer layer of your heart. Other chest sounds that are signs of fluid in the pericardium (pericardial effusion) or the lungs (pleural effusion) may also be heard.
Along with a complete medical history and physical exam, tests used to diagnose pericarditis may include:
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
The goal of treatment for pericarditis is to determine and eliminate the cause of the disease. Treatment often involves medicines, such as pain medicines, anti-inflammatory drugs, or antibiotics.
If serious heart problems develop, treatment may include:
Pericarditis may last from 2 to 6 weeks, and it may come back.
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 these layers increases. This is called a pericardial effusion. If the amount of fluid increases quickly, the effusion can keep the heart from working properly. This complication of pericarditis is called cardiac tamponade and is a serious emergency. A thin needle or tube (called a catheter) is put into the chest to remove the fluid in the pericardium and relieve pressure on the heart.
Chronic constrictive pericarditis occurs when scar-like tissue forms throughout the pericardium. It’s a rare disease that can develop over time in people with pericarditis. The scar tissue causes pericardial sac to stiffen and not move properly. In time, the scar tissue squeezes the heart and keeps it from working well. The only way to treat this is to remove the pericardium with a special type of heart surgery.
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, call your healthcare provider.
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