Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Methodist DeBakey Cardiology Associates



» What is pericarditis?
» What causes pericarditis?
» What are the symptoms of pericarditis?
» How is pericarditis diagnosed?
» How is pericarditis treated?

What is pericarditis?

Pericarditis is a condition in which the sac-like membrane surrounding the heart, called the pericardium, becomes inflamed, causing chest pain and other symptoms. Pericarditis is usually sudden and short-lived (acute); in cases when it symptoms develop more gradually or persist, the condition is considered chronic.

What causes pericarditis?

The exact cause of pericarditis can be difficult to determine, but it often results from a viral infection. It can also arise after a major heart attack due to the resulting irritation in the heart muscle. Other possible causes include:

  • Systemic inflammatory disorders (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Trauma to your heart or chest
  • Other disorders such as kidney failure, AIDS, tuberculosis and cancer
  • Certain medications

A form of pericarditis called Dressler's syndrome can occur due to antibody formation after a heart attack or heart surgery.

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What are the symptoms of pericarditis?

Symptoms of pericarditis can include:

  • Sharp pain behind the breastbone or on left side of the chest
  • Shortness of breath, especially when reclining
  • Low-grade fever
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dry cough
  • Swelling in the legs or abdomen

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How is pericarditis diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing pericarditis is a physical exam in which your doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to your heart. He or she will be listening for a sound called a pericardial rub, which is made when the two layers of the pericardium rub against each other.

You may then undergo one or more tests to check for signs of inflammation, fluid in the pericardium or infection. In addition, your doctor may want to perform one or more of the following diagnostic procedures:

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How is pericarditis treated?

While mild cases of pericarditis can get better on their own, more severe cases may require treatment, which can include anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and/or antibiotic medications.

If your doctor suspects a condition called cardiac tamponade—a serious complication of pericarditis caused by fluid buildup around the heart—you may need a procedure called pericardiocentesis. In this procedure, a doctor uses a sterile needle or a catheter to drain excess fluid from the pericardial cavity.

If severe pericarditis causes the pericardium to become rigid and affects the heart's ability to pump blood, a pericardectomy (surgical removal of the pericardium) may be needed.

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For more information about Methodist DeBakey Cardiology Associates or to make an appointment, please call us at 713-441-1100 or 888-361-4375, or contact us online