Pericarditis occurs when there is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin, two-layered, fluid-filled sac that protects the outer surface of your heart. The pericardium ensures the heart stays inside the chest wall. The layers have some fluid between them to prevent friction during heartbeats. When the layers inflame, it can cause chest pain.
Pericarditis typically develops suddenly and may continue for weeks up to several months. However, it usually stops after three months, but sometimes attacks can reoccur for years. Also, sometimes there is excess fluid between the pericardial layers, known as pericardial effusion.
There is no known cause of most pericarditis, but viral infections have caused 80 to 90% of cases. Most times, pericarditis resolves independently. Nevertheless, specific treatments can reduce the duration of the condition and prevent recurrences.
Types Of Pericarditis
The following are the types of pericarditis:
- Acute pericarditis: inflammation of the pericardium that occurs suddenly, including the sudden onset of symptoms.
- Chronic pericarditis: inflammation of the pericardium that persists for three months or longer after the first acute attack
- Constrictive pericarditis: a severe type of pericarditis where the inflamed layers of the pericardium become rigid, form scar tissue, thicken, and adhere together. Constrictive pericarditis interferes with your heart’s normal function. This usually happens after multiple episodes of acute pericarditis over time.
- Infectious pericarditis: It occurs due to a viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection.
- Idiopathic pericarditis: a pericarditis without a known cause
- Traumatic pericarditis: It occurs due to an injury to the chest, like after a car accident.
- Uremic pericarditis: It occurs due to kidney failure.
- Malignant pericarditis: It occurs due to cancer growing in your body.
Symptoms Of Pericarditis
Pericarditis patients mostly experience chest pain, which could feel sharp or stabbing (yet some people have dull, pressure-like chest pain). Also, chest pain can happen on the left-hand side of the chest or behind your breastbone.
It may spread to your shoulder and arms or worsen when coughing, swallowing, lying down (particularly on your left side), or taking a deep breath, and the chest pain can improve when leaning forward.
People can also experience other pericarditis symptoms such as a high temperature, feeling feverish, sick, light-headed, and shortness of breath.
Diagnosis Of Pericarditis
Diagnosing patients with pericarditis usually requires a comprehensive approach. Healthcare providers start with a physical examination and ask about your symptoms and medical history.
Next, they will use a stethoscope to listen for a specific pericardial rub responsible for the rubbing of the pericardium layers. Then, blood tests are performed to detect heart attack indicators, inflammation, and infection.
Other diagnostic tools include an electrocardiogram (ECG) for recording heart electrical signals, a chest X-ray for detecting heart size and shape changes, an echocardiogram for assessing heart function and fluid buildup, a cardiac CT scan for detecting heart thickening (potentially showing constrictive pericarditis), and a cardiac MRI for comprehensive images of the thin tissue covering the heart.
While you can’t prevent acute pericarditis, immediate treatment and sticking with it can alleviate the risk of it reoccurring. Furthermore, heed your provider’s advice about when to resume exercising, as brisk exercise can worsen active pericarditis.
Treatment Options For Pericarditis
The following are the two methods of treating pericarditis:
Pain reliever medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen and prescription-strength options are mainly prescribed to limit inflammation and swelling. Patients can use colchicine to treat acute pericarditis or recurring symptoms; however, it should be avoided in cases of liver or kidney disease.
Corticosteroids such as prednisone may be considered if other treatments aren’t effective. However, if it’s a case of bacterial infection, then you should try antibiotics and drainage.
💠 Surgical Procedures
When there is a lot of fluid buildup or constrictive pericarditis, surgery like pericardiocentesis, which drains the extra fluid, or pericardiectomy, which removes the pericardium, may be done. Treatment depends on the specific circumstances of each case.
Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the thin, two-layered, fluid-filled sac that protects the outer surface of your heart. It can come in different forms, such as acute pericarditis, chronic pericarditis, constrictive pericarditis, etc.
Its common symptom is chest pain, and it cannot be prevented. After diagnosing it with blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG), a chest X-ray, an echocardiogram, a cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan, etc., it can be treated with medications like aspirin or ibuprofen, colchicine, corticosteroids, and surgery procedures including pericardiocentesis and pericardiectomy, the removal of the pericardium.