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 any or all of the following:
The following are the most common signs of pericarditis. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of pericarditis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. See a health care provider for a diagnosis.
If your health care provider suspects pericarditis, he or she will listen to your heart very carefully. A common sign of pericarditis is a pericardial rub -- 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 be heard, too.
Along with a complete medical history and physical exam, tests used to diagnose pericarditis may include:
Specific treatment for pericarditis will be determined by your health care provider based on the following:
The goal of treatment for pericarditis is to determine and eliminate the cause of the disease. Treatment often involves medications, such as pain medicines, anti-inflammatory drugs, and/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 two 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.
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, call your health care provider.
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