Your pericardium consists of two shallow layers of tissue that encase your heart to keep it in place and maintain its function. Fluid divides the two layers of tissue to prevent friction. Pericarditis arises when the pericardium becomes inflamed. Chest pain occurs as a result of pericarditis when the inflamed layers of the pericardium rub against your heart.

Pericarditis may occur suddenly, and if this is the case, acute pericarditis doesn't last long. Pericarditis could also develop over time. Usually, chronic pericarditis is harder to treat and requires patience to resolve.

What are the signs of pericarditis?

A primary symptom of acute pericarditis is sudden sharp chest pain. Acute pericarditis pain may migrate from your chest to your shoulders. Pain as a result of acute pericarditis feels as if you had a heart attack. When this does occur, you must remain calm and sit up or lean forward as this will ease the pain. Do not lie down or breathe in heavily as this only worsens the pain.

Other general signs of pericarditis include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing
  • Fast heartbeat

What are some of the reasons for pericarditis?

Viral infections are the leading causes of pericarditis. Typically, you may experience pericarditis after a severe respiratory infection. However, chronic recurrent pericarditis is often as a result of autoimmune diseases that include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/AIDS, cancer or tuberculosis.

Pericarditis could also occur as a result of a heart attack, particular heart surgeries or from anti-seizure or blood-thinning medication.

What does the diagnosis of pericarditis involve?

Before Dr Xana conducts further diagnostic tests, he asks you about your medical history that includes recent respiratory infections or flu as well as current heart conditions or heart attacks. Additional diagnostic tests for pericarditis include:

Physical exam: To check for signs of a surplus of fluid in your chest, Dr Xana uses a stethoscope to listen for a pericardial rub. A pericardial rub is a sound of your pericardium rubbing against the outer region of your heart.

Electrocardiogram: An electrocardiogram measures the electrical activity of your heart. This test confirms or rules out pericarditis.

Chest x-ray: A chest x-ray views the inside of your chest. This diagnostic test detects an enlarged heart as well as a surplus of fluid in your pericardium.

Heart scan: A heart computed tomography (CT scan) captures detailed images of the internal structures of your heart as well as your pericardium. This diagnostic test helps confirm pericarditis or rule out other causes of chest discomfort.

How does my cardiologist treat pericarditis?

Any pericarditis treatment aims to reduce chest pain and inflammation. To resolve the underlying cause of pericarditis, your cardiologist also checks for complications that may arise as a result of the condition.

Forms of treatment for pericarditis include:

  • Medication: Dr Xana prescribes over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to reduce inflammation and chest discomfort. If there’s a sign of infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics to fight against the infection.
  • Pericardiocentesis: Dr Xana uses a tiny needle to drain surplus fluid in your pericardium. The cardiologist performs this procedure to resolve cardiac tamponade, a severe medical illness that occurs when the build-up of fluid puts pressure on your heart.
  • Pericardiectomy: To treat constrictive pericarditis, your cardiologist removes a portion of the entire pericardium.