What is Pericarditis?
Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin fluid-filled sac surrounding the heart. The pericardium holds the heart in place and shields it from infection; there is a small amount of fluid between the heart and the pericardium to ensure there is no rubbing between them.
Pericarditis may occur as the result of a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. It may also be caused by certain heart conditions, heart surgery, specific medical conditions, injuries or medications.
Frequently, the cause of pericarditis is unknown or idiopathic, though it often occurs after a viral infection. It is most often acute, meaning that it comes on suddenly and doesn’t last long, from just a few days to a few weeks.
Most people diagnosed with pericarditis will recover after one acute episode without hospitalization. Approximately 15-30% of those diagnosed will face complicated or recurrent pericarditis.
Pericarditis often appears with symptoms similar to a heart attack, such as sharp chest pain in the middle or left side of the chest. Common symptoms of pericarditis include:
- Chest pain (sharp and stabbing) that may decrease by sitting up and leaning forward
- Pain in the back, neck or shoulder
- Anxiety or fatigue
- Dry cough
Inflammation is typically treated with medication, but, for some, surgery is needed.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, other anti-inflammatory medication, and corticosteroids are common treatments. Interleukin-1 inhibitors are also being used in more complicated cases. On March 18, 2021, ARCALYST® (rilonacept) became the first FDA approved treatment for recurrent pericarditis.
Serious conditions that can result from pericarditis are cardiac tamponade when there is too much fluid between the pericardium and the heart; and chronic constrictive pericarditis, where scar-like tissue develops in the pericardium. Both conditions cause the heart to compress. In rare cases, pericarditis is diagnosed as chronic, complicated, or recurrent pericarditis and can even be fatal.
The better informed patients and healthcare providers are about the early signs and symptoms of pericarditis, the greater the chances for a more positive outcome. Explore our resources to learn the latest research, articles, and information about pericarditis.