What is Pericarditis?
Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, a sac-like structure with two thin layers of tissue that surround the heart to hold it in place and help it work. A small amount of fluid keeps the layers separate so there’s less friction between them as the heart beats.
A common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain, caused by the sac’s layers becoming inflamed and possibly rubbing against the heart. It may feel like pain from a heart attack.
If you have chest pain, call 911 right away because you may be having a heart attack. Learn about warning signs for a heart attack.
Pericarditis can be attributed to several factors, including viral, bacterial, fungal and other infections. Other possible causes of pericarditis include heart attack or heart surgery, other medical conditions, injuries and medications.
Pericarditis can be acute, meaning it happens suddenly and typically doesn’t last long. Or the condition may be "chronic," meaning that it develops over time and may take longer to treat.
Both types of pericarditis can disrupt your heart’s normal function. In rare cases, pericarditis can have very serious consequences, possibly leading to abnormal heart rhythm and death.
Pericarditis is frequently mild and may clear up on its own with rest or simple treatment. Sometimes, more intense treatment is needed to prevent complications.
Recovery time from pericarditis may vary depending on the type of condition and the patient’s health. Consultation with a health care professional can determine this.
Other names for pericarditis
- Idiopathic pericarditis (no known cause)
- Acute fibrinous pericarditis and acute purulent pericarditis (forms of acute pericarditis)
- Chronic effusive pericarditis and chronic constrictive pericarditis (forms of chronic pericarditis)
- Recurrent pericarditis
Causes of pericarditis
The cause of pericarditis is often unknown, though viral infections are a common reason. Pericarditis may occur after a respiratory or digestive system infection.
Chronic and recurring pericarditis may be caused by autoimmune disorders such as lupus, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis. These are disorders in which the body’s immune system makes antibodies that mistakenly attack the body’s tissues or cells.
Other possible causes of pericarditis are:
- Heart attack and heart surgery
- Kidney failure, HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis and other health problems
- Injuries from accidents or radiation therapy
- Certain medicines, such as phenytoin (an anti-seizure medicine), warfarin and heparin (both blood-thinning medicines), and procainamide (a medicine to treat irregular heartbeats)
Who is at risk for pericarditis?
Pericarditis affects people of all ages, but men ages 16 to 65 are more likely to develop it.
Among those treated for acute pericarditis, up to 30% may experience the condition again, with a small number eventually developing chronic pericarditis.