Pericarditis is a condition that affects the pericardium, a thin membrane that surrounds your heart. When pericarditis develops, this can cause the heart’s tissue to become swollen and inflamed, forcing the layers to rub against each other. This can lead to debilitating symptoms that can impact your daily life. There are many types of pericarditis ranging from acute to chronic, and the signs may differ for each patient. Myocarditis Foundation is here to raise awareness about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of pericarditis, and support research efforts that work toward a cure.
Causes and Symptoms of Pericarditis
Although the exact cause of pericarditis can be unknown, most known cases arise due to underlying diseases, including:
- Viral infections
- Heart trauma
- Systemic inflammatory disorders
- Certain medications
- Complications from a heart attack or surgery
Because pericarditis creates inflammation in surrounding heart tissue, the consistent rubbing of the layers can cause a variety of symptoms to occur. Similar to symptoms of a heart attack, the most common sign of pericarditis is sharp chest pains. These pains can worsen if you sit, inhale deeply, or cough, and leaning forward can work to alleviate discomfort. Depending on the type of pericarditis you have, chest discomfort can either subside quickly or develop slowly and worsen over a long period. Some additional symptoms include:
- Low-grade fever
- Muscle weakness
- Heart palpitations
To diagnose symptoms of pericarditis, doctors will use imaging techniques such as X-rays, echocardiograms, pericardial effusion, or MRIs for a detailed look at the heart. They will also check biomarkers for signs of inflammation. According to the European Society of Cardiology, the following criteria could indicate the presence of pericarditis:
- Pericardial chest pain
- Pericardial rubbing sounds
- Widespread ST-segment elevation or PR-segment depression
- Pericardial effusion
Depending on your symptoms and how often your chest pains occur, there are many kinds of pericarditis you can be diagnosed with, including:
- Acute pericarditis
- Recurrent pericarditis
- Incessant pericarditis
- Chronic constrictive pericarditis
- Idiopathic pericarditis
- Acute fibrinous pericarditis
- Chronic effusive pericarditis
Symptoms of any form of pericarditis can last a few days or weeks. They can also recur often and, in some cases, even persist for more than three months.
After receiving your pericarditis diagnosis, it’s important to get the treatment you need as soon as possible. While acute pericarditis can go away on its own, chronic cases can lead to additional complications in the future. For example, cardiac tamponade is a heart disease that stems from chronic pericarditis. This condition forces fluid to build up in the pericardium and prevents the heart from properly working.
Currently, there is one FDA-approved treatment for pericarditis. Please talk to your doctor about this option. However, patients can control most symptoms through over-the-counter medications, working to reduce inflammation and minimize pain. If an underlying illness or disease is causing your pericarditis, your doctor will prescribe medications to resolve it. Before taking any medications, always consult your doctor to ensure they are safe to use alongside additional prescriptions. Doing so will help prevent other complications from arising.
If chronic pericarditis cases worsen or develop into other heart conditions, patients may need surgery. The procedure involves draining excess fluid from the heart through a catheter to relieve pressure.
For more information about pericarditis, Myocarditis Foundation offers additional resources, including:
- Pericarditis by Cleveland Clinic
- Pericarditis by Mayo Clinic
- Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Treatments in Participants with Recurrent Pericarditis
- FDA Approved Therapy for Recurrent Pericarditis
- Anti-Interleukin-1 Agents for Pericarditis: A Primer for Cardiologists
- A New Way to Care for Patients with Pericardial Disease