The cause of pericarditis is unknown or unproven in many cases. It mostly affects men ages 20 to 50 years.
Pericarditis is often the result of an infection such as:
The condition may be seen with diseases such as:
Other causes include:
Pericarditis is a condition in which the sac-like covering around the heart (pericardium) becomes inflamed.
When listening to the heart with a stethoscope, the health care provider can hear a sound called a pericardial rub. The heart sounds may be muffled or distant. There may be other signs of excess fluid in the pericardium (pericardial effusion).
If the disorder is severe, there may be:
The following imaging tests may be done to check the heart and the tissue layer around it (pericardium):
To look for heart muscle damage, the provider may order a troponin I test. Other laboratory tests may include:
Pericarditis can range from mild illness that gets better on its own, to a life-threatening condition. Fluid buildup around the heart and poor heart function can complicate the disorder.
The outcome is good if pericarditis is treated right away. Most people recover in 2 weeks to 3 months. However, pericarditis may come back. This is called recurrent, or chronic, if symptoms or episodes continue.
Scarring and thickening of the sac-like covering and the heart muscle may occur when the problem is severe. This is called constrictive pericarditis. It can cause long-term problems similar to those of heart failure.
Many cases cannot be prevented.
Chest pain is almost always present. The pain:
You may have fever, chills, or sweating if the condition is caused by an infection.
Other symptoms may include:
The cause of pericarditis should be identified, if possible.
High doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are often given with a medicine called colchicine. These medicines will decrease your pain and reduce the swelling or inflammation in the sac around your heart.
If the cause of pericarditis is an infection:
Other medicines that may be used are:
If the buildup of fluid makes the heart function poorly, treatment may include:
Surgery called pericardiectomy may be needed if the pericarditis is long-lasting, comes back after treatment, or causes scarring or tightening of the tissue around the heart. The operation involves cutting or removing part of the pericardium.
Call your provider if you have symptoms of pericarditis. This disorder is not life threatening most of the time. However, it can be very dangerous if not treated.
Imazio M, Gaita F, LeWinter M. Evaluation and treatment of pericarditis: A systematic review. JAMA. 2015; 314(14):1498-1506. PMID: 26461998
Knowlton KU, Narezkina A, Savoia MC, Oxman MN. Myocarditis and pericarditis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 86.
LeWinter MM, Imazio M. Pericardial diseases. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2019:chap 83.
Review Date: 2/22/2018
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 9-1-1 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only—they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.