There are many underlying conditions that may cause pains in your chest and other complications. About five percent of people who go to the emergency room with non-ischemic chest pain are diagnosed with pericarditis. This condition is still being researched in order to determine the best methods of diagnosis and treatment, but the Myocarditis Foundation is committed to raising awareness in order to encourage better outcomes for affected individuals today and in the future.
What causes pericarditis?
Pericarditis occurs when the pericardium, a thin membrane around your heart, becomes swollen or inflamed. This can cause layers of the pericardium to rub against each other, producing sharp chest pains. It can often be hard for doctors to decipher what caused the membrane to become inflamed, but some common causes include:
- Viral infections
- Systemic inflammatory disorders
- Certain medications
- Complications from a heart attack
What are the symptoms of pericarditis?
The sharp chest pain caused by the pericardium’s layers rubbing against each other is the most common symptom of pericarditis, but you may experience others as well. The pain in your chest may feel worse if you recline, inhale deeply or cough, while leaning forward can lessen the pain. You may also experience a low-grade fever, fatigue or weakness and heart palpitations.
Whenever you feel chest pains, make sure to visit a doctor immediately or dial 9-1-1 for emergency assistance. While many cases of pericarditis can go away without medical treatment, it can sometimes develop into a more serious condition called cardiac tamponade. This occurs when fluid collects in the pericardium, preventing the heart from filling properly and causing a drop in blood pressure that can be fatal. Receiving an early diagnosis can help prevent these complications and help ensure that you aren’t experiencing a more serious heart condition.
How is pericarditis diagnosed?
In the United States, there is no consensus on diagnostic guidelines for doctors to follow when pericarditis is suspected. However, the European Society of Cardiology has outlined their criteria, which requires two of the four following symptoms to occur in order to be diagnosed:
- Pericardial chest pain
- Pericardial rubs, the sound created by the pericardial layers rubbing together
- Widespread ST-segment elevation or PR-segment depression based on electrocardiogram findings
- Pericardial effusion
Your doctor may also use imaging techniques, such as X-rays of your chest, echocardiograms or an MRI, as well as checking biomarkers of inflammation to further support their diagnosis.
If your symptoms last fewer than three weeks, you will be diagnosed with acute pericarditis. If you experience another episode of pain after a four- to six-week period of no symptoms, then the pericarditis is considered recurring. 20 to 30 percent of patients with acute pericarditis will have recurring symptoms. If the pain persists continually for longer than three months, the condition is considered chronic, which may cause fluid around your heart. Your doctor will work with you to determine the most accurate diagnosis and devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific condition and needs.
Additional information on pericarditis
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with pericarditis, it’s important to access reliable sources of information about this condition. The links below offer additional insights, and your doctor may also provide educational resources during treatment.
How is pericarditis treated?
While there are no FDA-approved treatments for pericarditis as of now, there are still some common methods that doctors use to relieve its symptoms. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can help reduce inflammation and minimize pain. There are other anti-inflammatory medications that may be prescribed, but should not be taken by individuals with certain pre-existing conditions or who take some medications.
If OTC pain relievers and anti-inflammatories fail to produce results, your doctor may use corticosteroids, to eliminate inflammation. However, this treatment will likely be used as a last resort due to the potential side effects associated with corticosteroids. You may also receive antibiotics to clear up any contributing bacterial infections, and in some cases draining of accumulated fluids may be necessary.
Leading the Path to Discovery
While effective diagnosis and treatment are available, there is still much to learn about pericarditis. For over 20 years, the Myocarditis Foundation has assisted in the effort to help discover cures for all forms of myocarditis and associated pericardial diseases, such as pericarditis. To learn more about these conditions, check out our research library and real life stories from those affected. Ready to help find a cure? Contact us today or make a donation to support our work.