Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, the protective sac that surrounds your heart.
The pericardium has an inner and outer layer and can become inflamed if blood or fluid leaks between these two layers. It's often associated with pericardial effusion (build-up of fluid within the structures).
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PERICARDITIS?
Symptoms of pericarditis include:
chest pain that's similar to a stabbing sensation, which may feel worse when swallowing
pain in the neck that may extend across the shoulders and/or arms
an intermittent fever
light headedness, and
in some cases, a sudden onset shortness of breath (if this occurs seek urgent medical attention).
The pain can resolve itself if sitting forward, allowing the heart to relax within the chest cavity.
WHAT CAUSES PERICARDITIS?
Pericarditis is a complex condition with many variations and causes. A patient may need a physical examination and a doctor will consider their medical history in order for them to be diagnosed with the condition.
Pericarditis can be caused by:
a heart attack or surgery
following a virus or bacterial infection (such as the flu)
another inflammatory condition (such as rheumatoid arthritis)
kidney failure, or in rare cases, some form of cancer
inflammation of the myocardium (the heart muscle) rubbing against the pericardium.
Sometimes the cause will be unknown.
WHAT TESTS WILL I NEED FOR PERICARDITIS?
Tests for pericarditis include:
an electrocardiogram (ECG) to look for changes in your heart rhythm
an echocardiogram (echo) to look for excess fluid
a chest X-ray to look for an enlarged heart due to fluid build up
blood tests to check for inflammation.
WILL I NEED TREATMENT FOR PERICARDITIS?
Treatments for pericarditis depend on the cause and may include:
anti-inflammatory medication, such as Ibuprofen
painkillers or aspirin
medication such as Colchicine (a prescription drug that reduces swelling)
if symptoms don't resolve surgery may be necessary - pericardial window (a procedure to drain the sac surrounding the heart) is normally performed to treat and permanently prevent symptoms from persisting or coming back.
WHAT ARE THE LONG TERM EFFECTS OF CHRONIC PERICARDITIS?
Most people recover from Pericarditis quickly, but for some it can take several months or never fully resolve, making long term sufferers vulnerable to physical and [psychological issues. This can impact on quality of life for the sufferer and their families.
Unfortunately, pericarditis can come back despite medical or surgical intervention, so patients may be uncertain about the future of their health. As this rare condition is not visible or associated with an unhealthy, there is often a lack of understanding about the effects of living with pericarditis, meaning sufferers can often feel isolated, causing them to experience other effects such as anxiety, palpitations and panic.