Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the sac that surrounds and holds the heart in place.
Infections, heart attacks, trauma, cancer, and autoimmune disorders can all cause pericarditis, which may be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).
Causes and Risk Factors of Pericarditis
Pericarditis may also be present with:
- Cancer, including lung cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, and leukemia
- Kidney failure
Other causes include:
- Traumatic and radiation therapy-based injuries
- Drugs such as anti-seizure, blood-thinning, and anti-arrhythmia medications
Pericarditis After a Heart Attack
Pericarditis may develop after a heart attack.
Chest pain and fever are the most common symptoms of Dressler's syndrome.
How Is Pericarditis Diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your medical history — what symptoms you're experiencing and whether you have or recently had any respiratory infections, heart attacks, injuries, and other medical conditions.
If the pericarditis is severe, your doctor may also hear crackles in your lungs, and will detect pericardial effusion (fluid between your pericardium and heart), and signs of fluid in the space between your lungs and your ribs.
One or more imaging and diagnostic tests might then be ordered, including:
- Electrocardiogram, or EKG, a measure of your heart's electrical activity
- Chest X-rays, which can reveal an enlarged heart or excess pericardial fluid
- Chest computer tomography (CT) scans
- Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Echocardiography, which uses sound waves to image the heart
- Blood tests, which can detect if you've had or are having a heart attack, check for infection and inflammation, and help determine the cause of your pericarditis
Prognosis of Pericarditis
Treatment and Medication Options for Pericarditis
To reduce inflammation and swelling, as well as fever and pain, the first line of treatment for acute pericarditis is high doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Other drugs may help treat acute pericarditis, including:
- Antibiotics for pericarditis caused by bacteria
- Antifungal drugs for pericarditis caused by fungi
- Diuretics, or water pills, to remove excess fluid
Pericarditis generally clears up on its own or with medications, but complications may eventually develop that require surgical treatment.
Prevention of Pericarditis
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Research and Statistics: Who Has Pericarditis?
Resources We Love
American Heart Association
The AHA is the nation's largest voluntary organization dedicated to cardiovascular health. Their website covers a number of heart conditions in depth, including pericarditis. And in addition to supporting and educating patients, they offer resources for caregivers too.
The Cleveland Clinic is a trusted source for Everyday Health editors of up-to-date info on all sorts of medical conditions — and pericarditis is no exception. Beyond the basics of the condition and how to manage it, they've got an expert podcast on the topic.
Another incredibly helpful go-to source, the Mayo Clinic provides a clear, detailed review of this condition, from symptoms and diagnosis to treatment and possible complications. Plus, they feature tips on how to prepare for an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Additional reporting by Deborah Shapiro.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- What Is Pericarditis? American Heart Association. March 31, 2016.
- Pericarditis: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. October 21, 2020.
- Pericarditis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic. October 21, 2020.
- Prevention and Treatment of Pericarditis. American Heart Association. March 31, 2016.
- Pericarditis. Cleveland Clinic. May 3, 2019.
- Pericarditis. MedlinePlus. January 27, 2020.
- Pericarditis – After Heart Attack. MedlinePlus. July 25, 2018.
- Pericarditis. Harvard Health Publishing. December 2018.
- Chronic Pericarditis. Merck Manual. June 2019.
- Management of Acute and Current Pericarditis. American College of Cardiology. January 7, 2020.
- Cardiac Tamponade. MedlinePlus. May 15, 2020.
- Acute Pericarditis: Diagnosis and Management. American Family Physician. April 2014.
- Heart Inflammation. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
- Dressler's Syndrome. Mayo Clinic. June 19, 2018.