Glossary of Terms

Acute pericarditis: Inflammation of the pericardium that usually causes chest pain and comes on rapidly. It is often accompanied by other symptoms. According to the ACC (American College of Cardiology), pericarditis accounts for about 5% of all emergency room visits for chest pain.

Biologic: In the context of pericarditis, we are referring to “biopharmaceuticals” when we refer to biologics. These are made from or contain molecular components of living organisms or modifications of such molecules. They are currently used for many diseases and conditions. Anakinra (brand name Kineret) is a biologic which has been used for the “off-label” treatment of pericarditis. 

On March 18, 2021, rilonacept (brand name Arcalyst) became the first FDA approved treatment for recurrent pericarditis. See more details: ​ https://www.arcalyst.com/

Cardiac tamponade: Impaired function of the heart due to a pericardial effusion. This is a life-threatening medical condition.

Centers of Excellence: Centers of Excellence are comprehensive teams of healthcare professionals with dedicated facilities who provide leadership, best practices, research, training and support for specific conditions and/or diseases. Typically, these are located at large medical centers. There are a number of cardiologists who are highly knowledgeable about the most current diagnostic modalities and treatments for pericarditis (see authors of the articles cited on our website), but only a small number of Centers of Excellence, for example at Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic.

Chronic or complicated pericarditis: When pericarditis lasts longer than a few months and/or causes complications such as cardiac tamponade, it is considered chronic or complicated.

Constrictive pericarditis: Constrictive pericarditis is a complication of  pericarditis that occurs when the layers of the pericardium thicken or stiffen, sometimes due to scar tissue or calcification. This can result in impairment of the heart’s ability to function normally.

Corticosteroids: A class of “stress” hormones produced by the adrenal gland, or their synthetic equivalents. These hormones have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and are often used to treat pericarditis, especially when it is chronic or complicated.  Prednisone is the most commonly used corticosteroid in the treatment of pericarditis.

CRP: C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a marker of inflammation that is produced by the liver and can be measured in the blood.  A high value is often present in patients with cardiovascular disease, especially pericarditis.

ECHO (Echocardiogram): A medical test that uses ultrasound technology to assess the structure and function of your heart, including its valves. It is also used to detect pericardial effusion and tamponade.
EKG (Electrocardiogram): A medical test that records the electrical activity of your heart. It is a simple and painless procedure that is often used to assist in diagnosing pericarditis.

Idiopathic pericarditis: Pericarditis whose cause is not known.

Infectious pericarditis: Pericarditis due to an infectious agent, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Interleukin-1 (IL-1) inhibitors: IL-1 is a class of cytokine, molecules produced by the immune system that mediate inflammatory responses. Impaired regulation of IL-1 is thought to be involved in causing recurrent pericarditis. IL-1 inhibitors are a new class of drugs that have been used to successfully treat recurrent pericarditis (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3644509/).

NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. These medications are used to reduce pain, fever, and, in larger doses, inflammation. Examples of NSAIDs are ibuprofen and aspirin.

Nonischemic chest pain: Chest pain that is not caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle resulting from blockages in the coronary arteries. The pain caused by pericarditis is an example of non-ischemic chest pain.

MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A medical test that uses a magnetic field to produce computer-generated images of organs and tissues in your body. MRI machines are often large tube-like devices. Cardiac MRI is especially useful in assessing pericardial disease, including inflammation.
Pericardium: The thin, two-layered sac, that surrounds the heart.

Pericardial effusion: The pericardial sac normally contains a small amount of fluid. An effusion occurs when an abnormally large amount of fluid builds up in the pericardial sac. There are many causes of pericardial effusion, including inflammation.

Pericardial window (surgery): When excess fluid builds up in the pericardium, pericardial window surgery is sometimes performed to drain it. This leaves a permanent “hole” in the pericardial sac, allowing fluid to continuously drain. It is typically done as a minimally invasive surgery, with a small incision in the pericardium.

Pericardiectomy: Removal of a portion or all of the pericardium.
Pericardiocentesis: A minimally invasive way to remove excess fluid from the pericardial sac by inserting a catheter (a long, thin hollow tube) into it.
Sed Rate: Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: This is a blood test to assess inflammation in the body. It is often elevated in cases of pericarditis.

Stress Test: This is a clinical test to assess the heart and body’s response to stress, most commonly physical exercise, although pharmacological stimulation is often used as a substitute for exercise. It is most commonly used to diagnose blockages in the coronary arteries.