Key Points about Pericarditis

  • Pericarditis is an inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the heart.
  • The inflammation that leads to pericarditis symptoms can result from an infection, heart attack, certain medications and chronic diseases, or heart surgery.
  • Most cases of pericarditis are treated with over-the-counter pain relievers or corticosteroids.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you have severe chest pain.
Common related conditions
Heart (Cardiovascular) Disease

Overview

Pericarditis occurs when the tissue that encapsulates the heart becomes inflamed and irritated. It can result from an infection, heart attack, certain medications and chronic diseases, or heart surgery.

The main symptom of pericarditis is a sudden feeling of sharpness or stabbing in the chest. Most cases of pericarditis resolve on their own. Cases that do not go away on their own may be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers or corticosteroids.

If you have severe chest pain, seek immediate medical care. 

Pericarditis causes

Pericarditis results when the layer of tissues surrounding the heart, called the pericardium, become inflamed, causing chest pain. This inflammation and irritation can have a variety of causes, including:

  • Viral infections, for example following a respiratory infection
  • Bacterial or fungal infections
  • Having suffered a recent heart attack
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Some medications
  • A recent heart surgery
  • Chronic conditions such as AIDS, kidney failure, cancer and tuberculosis

Oftentimes, however, a cause cannot be identified for pericarditis.

Pericarditis risk factors

Pericarditis occurs most often in men between ages 20 and 50, although it can develop in anyone.  

Pericarditis symptoms

The main symptom of pericarditis is a sudden sensation of sharpness or stabbing in the chest, which often lasts for only a short period of time. This pain may also spread to the neck and left shoulder.

Pericarditis complications

Pericarditis can lead to complications such as:

  • Constrictive pericarditis
  • Cardiac tamponade

Pericarditis diagnosis

In addition to performing a physical examination and reviewing your symptoms and medical history, your Bon Secours Mercy will listen for signs of pericarditis in your heart with a stethoscope. Your doctor may also recommend procedures such as:

  • A chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

Pericarditis treatment

Pericarditis is often treated with medications to decrease inflammation, such as:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Corticosteroids

When to seek care

Seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing chest pain.

Next Steps

While most cases of pericarditis go away after a few weeks, some people may have symptoms that return after a few months. Call your doctor if your symptoms return. If you develop complications from pericarditis, you may need to be hospitalized.