Pericarditis is an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. The pericardium is a double later membrane that surrounds the heart, providing the heart with cushion and protection.
In this article we'll discuss its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
What Causes Pericarditis?
There are many things that can cause pericarditis, including:
- Infections: Viruses are the most common cause of pericarditis. Other infectious causes include bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
- Autoimmune diseases: Pericarditis can be a manifestation of an underlying autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Trauma: Physical trauma to the chest, such as from a car accident, can cause pericarditis.
- Cancer: Cancerous tumors can invade and destroy the pericardium.
- Other disorders: kidney failure, heart attack, and certain types of vasculitis.
Pericarditis can also occur without an identifiable cause. This is called idiopathic pericarditis.
Symptoms of Pericarditis
Common symptoms of pericarditis are:
- Chest pain (usually on the left side) that gets worse when lying down or deep breathing
- Pain that radiates to your shoulder or neck
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness and fatigue
- Rapid heartbeat or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
Diagnosis of Pericarditis
The diagnosis of pericarditis is based on a combination of the patient's history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. The most important aspect of the diagnosis is the patient's history, which may reveal evidence of an underlying condition that has led to the development of pericarditis.
Physical examination can often provide clues to the cause of pericarditis, but it is not always conclusive. Diagnostic tests are used to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other potential causes of the patient's symptoms.
Pericarditis is typically diagnosed based on the presence of certain characteristic features on the electrocardiogram (ECG). The ECG may show evidence of ST-segment elevation, which is indicative of inflammation of the inner lining of the heart (the endocardium).
In some cases, the ECG may also show evidence of PR segment depression, which is indicative of inflammation of the outer lining of the heart (the pericardium). In addition to the ECG findings, the diagnosis of pericarditis may be confirmed with laboratory tests, such as blood tests and echocardiography.
Treatment of Pericarditis
There are many treatments available for pericarditis, and the best course of treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause.
In most cases, pericarditis is treated with anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin. If pericarditis is caused by an infection, then antibiotics may also be prescribed. In some cases, corticosteroids may be used to help reduce inflammation. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the pericardium.
Steps to Take if You Have Symptoms of Pericarditis
If you think you might have pericarditis, it's important to see your doctor right away. Pericarditis can be very painful and, in rare cases, can be life-threatening. Here are some steps to take if you think you might have pericarditis:
- If you think you might have pericarditis, call your doctor and schedule an appointment.
- If you're in pain, try taking over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin.
- It's important to rest when you have pericarditis. Avoid activities that make your pain worse.
- Applying ice or heat to your chest can help ease your pain.
- Techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help you relax and ease your pain.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent pericarditis, but there are some things you can do to lower your risk:
- Get vaccinated against infections. This includes the flu and pneumococcal vaccines.
- Avoid contact with people who have infections.
- Wash your hands often and well, especially when you are around people who are sick.
- Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk of many types of infections, including those that can cause pericarditis.
- Manage any underlying health conditions you have. This includes conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders. Keeping these conditions under control can help lower your risk of pericarditis.