Dressler’s Syndrome (Post-Myocardial Infarction)

What is Dressler’s Syndrome?

Dressler’s syndrome – also called post-myocardial infarction, postpericardiotomy syndrome, and post-cardiac injury syndrome – is a condition that creates inflammation in the sac that surrounds the heart tissue called the pericardium. It is thought to be caused by a response in the immune system after the pericardium or heart muscle has suffered some sort of damage. Consequently, it is most frequently seen after heart attack, traumatic injury, and surgery.

In recent years, improvements have been made in how heart attacks are treated. As a result, Dressler’s syndrome is less prevalent than it has been in the past, affecting only between ten and forty percent of heart surgery patients. Most of the time it only occurs once. However, some cases see numerous recurrences for years afterwards.

What are the Symptoms of Dressler’s Syndrome?

Patients who encounter Dressler’s syndrome report symptoms appearing weeks and even months after the initial injury to the heart tissue or pericardium.

Symptoms include

  • Fever
  • Chest pain
  • Left shoulder pain that gets worse when lying down
  • Difficulty or labored breathing
  • General discomfort

Some of these symptoms can be an indication of another health concern, such as angina, pulmonary embolism, or pneumonia. So it is important to speak to a doctor to rule out those possibilities.

How is Dressler’s Syndrome Treated?

Upon diagnosis, the focus of treatment for Dressler’s syndrome is to reduce inflammation and manage the pain. Medical professionals often recommend over-the-counter pain reliever medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.

If those are not effective, corticosteroids and colchicine can be prescribed. In the event of further complications, more invasive procedures may be needed. Some cases will require the draining of excess fluids or removal of the pericardium. Younger patients and those who develop a restrictive pericardium after surgery are more likely to require these invasive treatments.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
September 06, 2017