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Pericarditis - Topic Overview

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What is pericarditis?

Pericarditis is swelling and irritation of the pericardium, which is the sac that surrounds your heart.

Pericarditis usually doesn't cause serious problems. Most people get better in 7 to 10 days. When there are problems, they may include:

  • A buildup of fluid in the pericardial sac (pericardial effusion camera.gif).
  • Sudden pressure on the heart and sudden difficulty pumping enough blood (called cardiac tamponade). This can be caused by the weight and pressure of the fluid buildup if it happens quickly.
  • Constrictive pericarditis, which can occur when pericarditis comes back or becomes a longer-term problem. The sac around the heart gets thick and stiff. This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood.

What causes pericarditis?

Many things can cause pericarditis, including:

In many cases, the cause is not known.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom is a sharp pain in the center or left side of your chest. The pain may spread to the shoulder blade. For some people, this pain is dull instead of sharp. It may be worse when you lie down or take a deep breath.

The pain lasts for hours or days and doesn't get better when you rest. It's different from a type of chest pain called angina, which only lasts a short time and usually gets better with rest.

Other symptoms may include a mild fever, weakness, feeling very tired, coughing, hiccups, and muscle aches.

Pericarditis usually isn't dangerous. But your chest pain could be caused by something more serious, like a heart attack. Getting diagnosed and treated early can help keep pericarditis from leading to other problems. That's why you should call a doctor right away if you have any kind of sudden chest pain.

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