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What is pericarditis?

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the thin membrane that surrounds the heart. During pericarditis, fluid between the inner and outer layers of the pericardium may increase. Pericarditis may last from two to six weeks, and there may be a recurrence of the disorder. If the fluid increases quickly, a condition known as cardiac tamponade, it could threaten the heart’s ability to function properly.


The following are the most common indicators of pericarditis:

  • Chest pain that:
    • Can be felt behind the breastbone, beneath the clavicle (collarbone), neck or left shoulder.
    • Is a sharp, piercing pain over the center or left side of the chest that increases if the person takes a deep breath and usually decreases if the person sits up or leans forward.
  • Fever
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Palpitations (irregular heart beats)

The symptoms of pericarditis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.


Usually, the cause of pericarditis is unknown, but may include:

  • Infection (viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic)
  • Autoimmune disorders (i.e., systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis or, scleroderma)
  • Inflammation after a heart attack
  • Chest trauma or injury
  • Cancer, tuberculosis, or kidney failure
  • Medical therapies (certain medications, radiation therapy)
  • Heart surgery

Types of treatment

Your health care provider will determine your specific treatment, based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Severity of the disease
  • Cause of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Medication (such as analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics)
  • Aspiration or removal of excess fluid
  • Surgery
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