What is Pericarditis?

Pericarditis occurs when the pericardium of the heart becomes inflamed. This condition could be acute or chronic, but both forms can disrupt the normal function or rhythm of your heart.

Causes could be fungal, bacterial, or viral, but pericarditis could also be the result of a heart attack, injuries, medications, heart surgery, or other conditions. It often develops following a respiratory infection, but chronic forms could be caused by autoimmune disorders.

What are the Symptoms of Pericarditis?

Acute pericarditis might cause a stabbing, sharp pain in the chest, particularly behind your breastbone or on the left side of the chest. Some patients also describe the pain as being achy, dull, or pressure-like. This pain could then travel to the left shoulder and the neck, and it will usually become more intense if you lie down, breathe deeply, or cough. Leaning forward or sitting up might reduce the pain.

Chronic pericarditis, on the other hand, will cause inflammation and might lead to pericardial effusion. The most common sign of chronic pericarditis is pain in the chest.

How is Pericarditis Treated?

Once the cause of the pericarditis is identified, your doctor can prescribe the appropriate treatment.

When caused by a virus, the goal would be to decrease the inflammation and control the pain, so medications like naproxen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or other pain medications might be prescribed.

Antibiotics and antifungal medications, as well as diuretics, may also be helpful, depending upon the cause of the condition.

If there is a buildup of fluid that effects heart function, pericardiocentesis might be used to drain the fluid. The doctor might also cut a small hole within the pericardium to drain the fluid.

A pericardiectomy might be necessary for chronic or recurring cases of pericarditis, or for cases in which tightening or scarring of the tissue surrounding the heart occurs.

Last Reviewed:
October 08, 2016
Last Updated:
August 24, 2017