Ever wondered what you should do if you have pericarditis. The understanding of the disease and its signs and symptoms is important before the treatment plan. So, what is pericarditis?

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Pericarditis is the inflammation of the pericardium. The pericardium is a fluid filled sac that surrounds the heart and holds it in position. When an infection reaches the pericardium, it causes pericarditis.

How Does Pericarditis Present Itself?

Pericarditis presents with a common symptom of sudden onset of sharp chest pain that might also mimic a heart attack. It is important to call emergency right away if you have chest pain because that might be due to heart attack too. The pain of pericarditis might also be felt in neck, shoulders or upper back. It might be associated with other symptoms such as fever, weakness, palpations, and shortness of breath. The chest pain is better when sitting upright, but worsens on lying down and with deep inhalation. On occasions the onset of symptoms is gradual instead of sudden.

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What Causes Pericarditis?

In most of the cases pericarditis is idiopathic in nature, meaning that the cause of it is unknown. At other times, it is viral in nature. It also might be bacterial or fungal in nature. Patients with heart attack and heart surgery are at greater risk of developing pericarditis. Pericarditis might be acute in onset, which means that it occurs suddenly and does not last long, chronic which means that it develops gradually over a period of time and lasts long. Pericarditis may also be recurrent, that recurs after the infection has resolved once.

What Do You Do If You Have Pericarditis?

If you suspect you have pericarditis, you should immediately take medical help without any delay and should not wait for the symptoms to subside on their own. Visit your doctor who will further confirm the diagnosis of pericarditis. The doctor will confirm the diagnosis by asking previous medical history, clinical exam and with the help of certain diagnostic tests such as EKG, chest x-ray, echocardiogram, MRI of heart. Once the diagnosis is confirmed for pericarditis, the medical practitioner will treat you accordingly to reduce the symptoms of pain and inflammation. The doctor will also look for the underlying cause and treat it and will also check for any possible complications.

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What are the Treatment Options?

Pericarditis, in most cases, is treated with analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), commonly ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen. At other occasions, other medications such as colchicines or steroids may also be needed to treat severe pain symptoms. The treatment also includes rest until the symptoms subside.

Other cases of pericarditis with infectious etiology are treated with antibiotics if it is bacterial in nature and antifungal medications if it is fungal in nature. Some cases also might require a hospital stay to monitor the symptoms and check for any complications. Typically, pericarditis resolves in a few weeks, but some chronic cases can take up to several months. In severe or untreated cases, complications might develop and patient might need hospitalization.

The complications of pericarditis include:

Cardiac Tamponade: This is a serious complication of untreated pericarditis that requires medical emergency. In this the pericardium fills with fluid/blood that might compress the heart resulting in shock, hypotension, pulmonary edema or death. It is treated with draining the fluid out of the pericardial sac, known as pericardiocentesis.

Constrictive Pericarditis: It is chronic inflammation leading to scarring and thickening of the pericardium. This might lead to low cardiac output and diastolic heart failure. It is treated by removing the scarred portion of the pericardium, known as pericardiectomy.

Conclusion

Generally, pericarditis is often mild when treated promptly. Untreated cases might lead to chronic pericarditis and severe problems that might affect heart adversely. To recover fully and to prevent further complication of pericarditis immediate treatment is required with complete rest and ongoing medical care. It is imperative to seek medical help when the first symptom of pericarditis is noticed to prevent worsening of the condition.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 30, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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