Prevention and Treatment of Pericarditis

Updated:Jul 29,2014

Mature Doctor PortraitHow Is Pericarditis Treated?

Most cases of pericarditis are mild; they clear up on their own or with rest and simple treatment. Other times, more intense treatment is needed to prevent complications. Treatment may include medicines and, less often, procedures or surgery.

The goals of treatment include:

  • Reducing pain and inflammation
  • Treating the underlying cause, if it's known
  • Checking for complications
Specific Types of Treatment
As a first step in your treatment, your doctor may advise you to rest until you feel better and have no fever. He or she may tell you to take over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain and inflammation. Examples of these medicines include aspirin and ibuprofen.

You may need stronger medicine if your pain is severe. If your pain continues to be severe, your doctor may prescribe a medicine called colchicine and, possibly, prednisone (a steroid medicine).

If an infection is causing your pericarditis, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic or other medicine to treat the infection. You may need to stay in the hospital during treatment for pericarditis so your doctor can check you for complications. The symptoms of acute pericarditis can last from a few days to 3 weeks. Chronic pericarditis may last several months.

Other Types of Treatment
You may need treatment for complications of pericarditis. Two serious complications are cardiac tamponade and chronic constrictive pericarditis.

Cardiac tamponade is treated with a procedure called pericardiocentesis. A needle or tube (called a catheter) is inserted into the chest wall to remove excess fluid in the pericardium. This procedure relieves pressure on the heart.

The only cure for chronic constrictive pericarditis is surgery to remove the pericardium. This is known as a pericardiectomy. The treatments for these complications require hospital stays.

How Can Pericarditis Be Prevented?
You usually can't prevent acute pericarditis. You can take steps to reduce your chance of having another acute episode, having complications, or getting chronic pericarditis.

These steps include:
  1. Getting prompt treatment
  2. Following your treatment plan, and
  3. Having ongoing medical care (as your doctor advises).
Living With Pericarditis
Many cases of pericarditis are mild and go away on their own. But other cases, if not treated, can lead to chronic pericarditis and serious problems that affect your heart. Some problems can be life threatening.
Sometimes it takes weeks or months to recover from pericarditis. Full recovery is likely with rest and ongoing care. These measures also can help reduce your risk of having the condition again.

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Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services