What is Pericarditis?

Health Tips
May 1, 2023
3 mins
What is Pericarditis?

Pericarditis is a relatively common condition that can cause chest pain. It can be either chronic or acute and can affect anyone. However, it is most common in males between the ages of 16 and 65. But what is pericarditis, exactly?

Pericarditis occurs when the pericardium becomes inflamed. The pericardium is a thin, two-layer sac-like membrane surrounding the heart. When it becomes inflamed, the two layers of the pericardium may rub together. This friction is what causes people to experience chest pain. 

How does this condition develop, how can patients spot it, and is it treatable?

Pericarditis Causes

There are a number of factors that may cause pericarditis. Viral infections, autoimmune disorders, or cardiovascular disorders may all be linked to instances of pericarditis. Some medications can also increase the chances of experiencing chest pain related to pericarditis.

Pericarditis Symptoms

There are a few common pericarditis symptoms to watch out for. However, by far the most common symptom is sharp or stabbing chest pain. Some patients might also feel a dull, aching pain. This pain can get worse when coughing or taking a deep breath. Other, less common, pericarditis symptoms may also be observed. These include fatigue, coughing, low fever, or an accelerated heartbeat.

Many cases of pericarditis are mild and acute. However, in severe cases, pericarditis can last for an extended period of time. In cases of chronic or prolonged pericarditis, it may be linked to other disorders which require medical attention.

Pericarditis can often be mistaken for myocarditis, and vice versa. Both conditions are caused by inflammation around the heart, resulting in chest pain. Pericarditis, in most cases, will resolve more quickly. Myocarditis can last longer, and will also cause shortness of breath and fatigue.

While acute pericarditis tends to go away quickly, recurrent or chronic pericarditis may require medical treatment.

Pericarditis Treatment

In some cases, pericarditis treatment is not required. Mild and acute cases often resolve on their own without medical intervention.

Treating Recurring Pericarditis

However, recurrent pericarditis can be treated with medications. Over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen are often effective for treating pericarditis. In very rare cases, surgery can be used as an aggressive form of pericarditis treatment.

Treating Conditions Linked to Pericarditis

Even though pericarditis does not always require medical treatment, patients should still seek medical attention if they develop new chest pains. Pericarditis can sometimes be associated with injuries or disorders. Autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, can increase the risk of pericarditis.

Patients are also at greater risk of pericarditis following heart attacks or heart surgery. If you experience pericarditis symptoms following cardiovascular injury or surgery, your doctor can prescribe medication to treat your chest pain.

Surgery for Pericarditis

The most common form of surgical pericarditis treatment is a procedure known as pericardiocentesis. In this procedure, doctors use a small needle to extract excess fluid from the pericardium.

The pericardium may need to be surgically removed in rare cases of constrictive pericarditis (in which the pericardium becomes rigid from scar tissue). This procedure is known as a pericardiectomy.

When to Seek Pericarditis Treatment

Knowing when to seek treatment for pericarditis can be tricky. Differentiating between different causes of chest pain is not always easy. However, it is usually best to err on the side of caution regarding chest pain. And, patients should seek medical attention sooner rather than later.

You should seek pericarditis treatment if your chest pain is recurring, or occurs in combination with other symptoms. You should be particularly mindful about seeking treatment if you have recently experienced a chest injury, hard surgery, or experienced heart attack.

California residents seeking to understand more about cardiovascular health and pericarditis treatment can visit BASS Medical Group to learn more.