Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the membrane sac surrounding the heart. When the pericardial sac becomes inflamed, it can rub against the outer layers of the heart. This causes the pain and pressure associated with pericarditis.
Besides the sharp chest pain and pressure in the chest area, symptoms of pericarditis may include symptoms of an infection such as fever, chills and weakness. Since the symptoms of pericarditis are similar to those of heart attack and lung problems, seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of pericarditis.
Causes of Pericarditis
The cause of pericarditis sometimes goes unidentified. A viral infection that travels to the pericardium is sometimes thought to be the cause.
Less common causes are other health problems including lupus, kidney failure, or cancer, trauma to the heart, and a side effect of certain drugs.
Treatment usually involves treating the pain and inflammation with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. If a virus is the cause, there is no treatment for the viral infection. Time is needed for the infection to clear up.
While pericarditis often subsides after a few weeks, complications in severe cases exist. Two potential complications are constrictive pericarditis, a loss of elasticity of the pericardium due to thickening and scarring, and cardiac tamponade, when the buildup of fluid compresses the heart and interferes with heart function.