What Is Pericarditis?
Pericarditis (PER-i-kar-DI-tis) is a condition in
which the membrane, or sac, around your heart is inflamed. This sac is called
the pericardium (per-i-KAR-de-um).
The pericardium holds the heart in place and helps
it work properly. The sac is made of two thin layers of tissue that enclose
your heart. Between the two layers is a small amount of fluid. This fluid keeps
the layers from rubbing against each other and causing friction.
Figure A shows the
pericardiumthe sac surrounding the heart. Figure B is an enlarged
cross-section of the pericardium that shows its two layers of tissue and the
fluid between the layers.
In pericarditis, the layers of tissue become
inflamed and can rub against the heart. This causes chest pain—a common
symptom of pericarditis.
The chest pain from pericarditis may feel like pain
attack. If you have chest pain, you should call 9–1–1 right
away, as you may be having a heart attack.
Many factors can cause pericarditis. Viruses and
infections are common causes. Less often, pericarditis occurs after a heart
surgery. Lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune
disorders also can cause the condition. In about half of all cases, the cause
Pericarditis can be acute or chronic.
“Acute” means that it occurs suddenly and usually doesn’t
last long. “Chronic” means that it develops over time and may take
longer to treat.
Both acute and chronic pericarditis can disrupt your
heart’s normal function and possibly (although rarely) lead to death.
However, most cases of pericarditis are mild and clear up on their own or with
rest and simple treatment. Other times, more intense treatment is needed to
prevent complications. Treatment may include medicines and, less often,
procedures and/or surgery.
It may take from a few days to weeks or even months
to recover from pericarditis. With proper and prompt treatment, such as rest
and ongoing care, most people fully recover from pericarditis. These measures
also can help reduce the chances of getting the condition again.