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What Is Pericarditis?

Pericarditis is a condition that causes swelling and irritation of the pericardium, a thin structure composed of two layers that surround the heart. An infection can cause injury to the heart, autoimmune diseases, and certain health conditions.

Pericarditis is usually mild and does not require treatment. Less commonly, it may lead to severe chest pain, fever, fatigue, and difficulty swallowing. These cases can be resolved with medications, including NSAIDs and corticosteroids. Surgeries are the last line of defense against pericarditis and are not performed commonly.

Types of Pericarditis

Types of pericarditis are classified based on the cause and the time symptoms are present. The four types that consider the cause include:

The other four types of pericarditis are based on how long the symptoms persist and include the following:

Another type of pericarditis that is not included in these two groups is constrictive pericarditis. It’s a severe form of this condition that heavily affects heart performance. It occurs when the inflamed layers of pericardium thicken, stick together, stiffen, or develop a scar on the tissue. It may develop due to several instances of acute pericarditis.


Unidentified causes of pericarditis account for 90% of all casesTrusted Source. Doctors refer to such causes as idiopathic (unknown). Although it is difficult to tell the cause in a specific case, researchers identified many potential culprits behind pericarditis. These include the following:

Unfortunately, if you are diagnosed with pericarditis, your condition is likely to be labeled as idiopathic pericarditis. 

Pericarditis: What Is, Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop pericarditis regardless of age and health. However, some factors may increase the risk of this condition. These include: 

Signs And Symptoms

According to the European Society of Cardiology, the characteristic symptom of pericarditis is pain in the chest, which is a complaint for 85 to 90% of all cases. The pain is often described as stabbing or sharp and gets worse while taking deep breaths, swallowing, coughing, and lying down. For many people, it improves when leaning forward or sitting.

All symptoms usually associated with pericarditis are as follows:

For some people, chest pain may feel like a heart attack. However, there are some key differences between pericarditis and heart attack. For instance, heart attack is caused by a lack of blood flow, while pericarditis occurs due to inflammation, injuries to the chest, and infections.

If you experience the above symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment significantly lower the risk of severe pericarditis and possible complications.


Late diagnosis and poor management of pericarditis increase the risk of complications. These conditions include:

Pericarditis: What Is, Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Related Conditions

Pericarditis can co-occur or occur as a result of some health conditions. The most common ones include the following:

These conditions increase the risk of developing pericarditis, but it is essential to remember that this condition is not necessarily tied to other health problems. People who don’t have any of these conditions may also develop pericarditis at some point in their lives.

Diagnosis And Tests

Doctors usually diagnose pericarditis using a variety of tests and screenings, such as CT scan, MRI, X-ray, ECG, and blood test. Before your healthcare provider decides which exam would work best, they will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms first. Reviewing the patient’s medical history is vital to diagnosing pericarditis.

Here are the most common tests your doctor may order you to determine if you have pericarditis:

Pericarditis: What Is, Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Conventional Treatment

Treatment methods for pericarditis deped on the underlying cause, type of pericarditis, and severity of symptoms. Cases that require treatment are usually resolved thanks to anti-inflammatory medication. If a bacteria caused pericarditis, it needs to be treated with antibiotics.

The good news is that most cases are mild and do not require any medicines. Rest and occasional use of pain relievers are all that is needed to recover from mild pericarditis. In other cases, your healthcare provider may reccomend these treatment options:


Surgeries are a reccomended response to recurrent pericarditis that does not improve despite the use if medicines which is typically caused by a fluid build-up around the heart. The two following procedures are used to remove the excess fluid:

When Should You Seek Emergency?

You should seek an immediate medical care after experiencing the following symptoms:

The above health issues may indicate a severe pericarditis but also a heart attack. Call emergency as soon as you notice the mentioned symptoms.

Prognosis for Pericarditis Patients

Pericarditis may take several weeks to resolve. Typically, acute pericarditis goes away on its own and does not develop again. Medicines, including NSAIDs and pain relievers, and resting, are sufficient treatment strategies to resolve mild cases.

Treatments for recurring and severe pericarditis are also available. However, it may take several months to fully recoverTrusted Source from more serious cases.

How to Prevent Pericarditis?

There are no specific guidelines on how to avoid pericarditis, but certain behaviors and lifestyle choices lower the risk of developing this condition. Here are some general practices that can make you less likely to develop pericarditis:

Pericarditis – Key Facts You Should Know

Pericarditis is characterized by inflammation and swelling of the pericardium, the thin double-layered sac surrounding the heart. While most cases are mild, pericarditis can lead to severe symptoms such as sharp chest pain, fever, fatigue, difficulty swallowing, and rapid heart rate.

Types of pericarditis are categorized by their causes and duration. Infectious pericarditis results from infections, while uremic pericarditis is linked to kidney failure. Malignant pericarditis is associated with cancer, and traumatic pericarditis stems from chest injuries. Duration-wise, acute pericarditis lasts up to six weeks, while chronic pericarditis persists for over three months. Constrictive pericarditis, a severe form, occurs when inflammation leads to thickening and scarring.

Identifying the cause of pericarditis is challenging, with 90% of cases labeled idiopathic. Potential culprits include infections, heart injuries, genetic factors, autoimmune diseases, and even COVID-19. Risk factors include age, gender, certain medications, heart surgeries, HIV, cancers, tuberculosis, kidney failure, and chest trauma.

Several tests are used to diagnose pericarditis. These include stethoscope examinations, CT scans, MRIs, X-rays, ECGs, and blood tests. Treatment depends on the underlying cause, with NSAIDs and corticosteroids being the most common strategy. Surgeries, such as pericardiocentesis and pericardiectomy, are reserved for severe and recurrent cases with fluid buildup.


November 26, 2023
10 minutes read

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