Heart and Circulatory System

What are the symptoms of pericarditis?

A Answers (3)

  • The membrane that surrounds and protects your heart is known as the pericardium.
    When this membrane becomes inflamed, the condition is known as pericarditis. It occurs in two forms: acute (sudden and short-lived) and chronic (persistent over long periods).
    The following provides an overview of the symptoms of pericarditis:
    • Acute pericarditis - severe, sudden chest pain (different from angina) that may spread to the neck, back, shoulders or arms, and is often worse when breathing deeply or changing position and relieved by sitting up or leaning forward; fever.
    • Chronic pericarditis - swelling in the legs and abdomen due to fluid retention, breathing difficulty, fatigue.
    In some cases, no symptoms may occur.
    If your doctor is able to identify the cause of your pericarditis, they'll probably prescribe medication to treat bacterial infections or diuretics to reduce fluid retention. Over-the-counter pain medicines, including aspirin and ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation. You may also be advised to restrict physical activity or be on bed rest for a period of time.
    There are also procedures that can help relieve pressure on the heart. Your doctor may drain the excess fluid around your heart in a procedure known as pericardiocentesis. More advanced cases may require surgery to remove part or all of the pericardium, the thin sac that surrounds the heart. This procedure, called pericardectomy, is the treatment of choice for chronic pericarditis and often yields excellent results.
  • Sharp, stabbing chest pain is a common symptom of acute pericarditis. The pain usually comes on quickly. It often is felt in the middle or the left side of the chest.

    The pain tends to ease when you sit up and lean forward. Lying down and deep breathing worsens it. For some people, the pain feels like a dull ache or pressure in their chests.

    The chest pain may feel like pain from a heart attack. If you have chest pain, you should call 9–1–1 right away, as you may be having a heart attack.

    Fever is another common symptom of acute pericarditis. Other symptoms are weakness, trouble breathing, and coughing.

    Chronic pericarditis often causes tiredness, coughing, and shortness of breath. Chest pain is often absent in this type of pericarditis. Severe cases of chronic pericarditis can lead to swelling in the stomach and legs and low blood pressure (hypotension).

    This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

  • Pericarditis is a condition in which the sac-like tissue that surrounds the heart (called the pericardium) becomes inflamed, swollen or irritated. The most common symptom of pericarditis is sharp, stabbing chest pain caused by friction from the inflamed sac around the heart. The chest pain is usually relieved by sitting up or leaning forward. The pain can sometimes feel worse with coughing or taking a deep breath. Pericarditis can also cause shortness of breath while lying down, low-grade fever, dry cough, abdominal or leg swelling, and an overall sense of weakness or fatigue.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.
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What are the symptoms of pericarditis?