What is pericarditis?

The pericardium is the membrane (thin sac) that surrounds the heart. If this membrane becomes inflamed, the condition is known as pericarditis.

What causes pericarditis?

Pericarditis can be triggered by a number of things. Examples include:

  • Heart Attack (myocardial infarction): Pericarditis may be caused by the destruction of heart muscle as the result of a heart attack. In such cases, the pericarditis is acute. Acute means the condition has a rapid onset and severe symptoms.
  • If a person is infected with tuberculosis, tuberculosis pericarditis can develop.
  • Rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatic arthritis, can cause acute pericarditis.
  • Cardiac injury: If the heart is damaged by a trauma, such as a stab wound, pericarditis may develop.

Who is most likely to get pericarditis?

While pericarditis can affect both men and women, it is more commonly found in men who are aged between 20 and 50.

What are the symptoms of pericarditis?

The main symptom associated with pericarditis is chest pain. This pain is often sharp, and is found behind the breastbone, although it can spread to the neck and shoulders. The pain may become worse if the person tries to take a deep breath or lie down.

Another common symptom of pericarditis is a fever. The presence of a fever can help your doctor to distinguish between pericarditis and an angina attack.

How long does pericarditis last?

Some forms can disappear within six weeks. For example if the pericarditis was caused by a chest trauma, the condition can disappear within a month.

However some forms may be more long-term, such as pericarditis resulting from rheumatic diseases.

Can pericarditis recur?

Yes. While pericarditis in some people may only last a few weeks and cause no more problems, a recurrence is possible. It is thought that around one in five people who have suffered with pericarditis will experience a recurrence.

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