Symptoms of Pericarditis: What To Look For…

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Symptoms of PericarditisDo I have Symptoms of Pericarditis….

Pericarditis is the medical term for inflammation of the pericardial sac surrounding the heart. The cause of Pericarditis is usually unknown, but often due to viral infections in the majority of patients. It can be a complication of other associated diseases or even traumatic injuries to the heart. We look at the symptoms of Pericarditis so you can be familiar with them.

Although pericarditis can occur in any age group, men in the 20-50 year age group are more at risk of developing pericarditis. Those who have had one attack of acute pericarditis have a 15 to 30 percent chance of developing the condition again. A small fraction of these individuals may  develop chronic pericarditis. In this article we cover what the symptoms of pericarditis are.

Anatomy Of The Pericardial Membrane

The pericardial membrane surrounding the heart consists of two parts. The visceral membrane is the thin part which tightly envelops the heart and is attached firmly to the heart muscle. The parietal membrane is thin and more elastic in nature. It also covers the heart but leaves a space called the pericardial space with the visceral membrane.

The parietal component of the pericardial membrane is tougher and has fibers which tether the heart to the rib cage and the diaphragm and avoid heart displacement when it pumps blood.

What Is Pericarditis?

Pericardial effusion of the heart space


There is a potential space created between the two components of the heart membrane which means that under normal circumstances it has very little fluid. When inflammation occurs in this space, inflammatory fluid may accumulate, leading to the condition known as pericarditis.

What Causes Pericarditis?

Usually pericarditis is idiopathic in nature. This means that there is often no known cause for the occurrence of pericarditis and the following symptoms of Pericarditis. The most commonly known cause is  due to viral infections.

Here Are The Most Obvious Causes Of  Pericarditis:

  •  Infection: Pericarditis can be caused due to infectious causes like bacterial infection due to tuberculosis and viral infections like HIV. The virus responsible for pericarditis is usually a gastrointestinal virus. Fungal and parasitic infections can also be a cause of pericarditis.
  • Inflammatory diseases: General autoimmune causes of inflammation in the body can  cause inflammation of the pericardium. These causes include rheumatoid arthritis, SLE, Scleroderma, Ankylosing spondylitis, inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Metabolic: There can also be many metabolic causes of pericarditis such as  hypothyroidism and uremia due to chronic kidney failure.
  • Cardiac: There are also many cardiac causes which may cause inflammation of the heart. These include Dressler syndrome. This is an immune response to the damage caused to heart tissue by a heart attack, open heart surgery or a trauma.
  • Medication: Certain medicines, like phenytoin (an antiseizure medicine), warfarin and heparin (blood-thinning medicines), and procainamide (a medicine to treat irregular heartbeats may cause pericarditis as a side effect.
  • Genetic: A genetic disease called the Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) can also lead to pericardial inflammation and pericarditis.
  • Other causes: Other causes like tumors, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also lead to pericarditis.

Symptoms of Pericarditis

Symptoms of Pericarditis

1. Chest Pain: Chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of pericarditis. This pain is caused by heart rubbing against the inflamed pericardium. Usually the pain starts in the middle of the chest right behind the breast bone. This pain then radiates up to the neck or the back.

The nature of this chest pain is described as sharp or stabbing but some individuals also describe it as dull or aching in nature. The intensity of this pain can range from being very mild to very severe. This pain can come on suddenly or may even have a gradual onset.

The pain may also be felt in one or both shoulders, the neck, back, and abdomen. The pain seems to ease up when the patient sits up and leans forward. It worsens on lying down. This pain occurs when the individual tries to breathe in.

2. Fever: Some individuals with acute pericarditis may develop a fever especially when the pericarditis is due to infectious causes.

3. Palpitations: These may be felt as the heart skipping a beat, as a flutter, or beating too hard or too fast. It is the conscious sensation of the heart beating. These can be a frightening symptoms of Pericarditis and its important to have your doctor check you out.

4. Cold sweats and chills

5. Shortness of breath: This is a reflection of the hearts inability to pump blood out of its chambers effectively. This may result in the blood being pooled inside the heart chambers and may flow back and pool into the lungs. The shortness of breath is exceptionally severe when lying down and is relieved when the individual sits upright.

6. Difficulty swallowing

7. Tiredness and fatigue

8. Swelling in the abdomen and legs: This may be present in severe chronic cases of pericarditis. This swelling may be a symptom of constrictive pericarditis which is a serious form of pericarditis complications. In this condition, the pericardium around the heart thickens, and becomes tougher.

This exerts a pressure on the heart and prevents it from expanding. The heart can be compressed in a constrictive manner. This causes the blood to back up to the lungs, abdomen and the legs leading to a generalized edema (swelling) all over the body. You can read more on the symptoms of Pericarditis at the Mayo Clinic

9. Hypotension (low blood pressure)

10. Anxiety

Main Complications Of Pericarditis

Pericarditis can have two serious complications:

1. Cardiac tamponade: If left untreated, pericarditis can have serious consequences. A life threatening condition called pericardial effusion may develop. This causes an excessive accumulation of inflammatory fluid around the heart in the pericardial sac compressing the heart chambers severely.

This results in cardiac tamponade in which severe compression of the heart affects its ability to function. Cardiac tamponade produces symptoms like chest pain, difficulty breathing, fainting, light-headedness, palpitations or rapid breathing.

2. Constrictive pericarditis: Prolonged untreated pericarditis can result in toughening of the pericardial membrane which puts resistance on the heart’s pumping ability.

Once this complication has developed individuals experience symptoms like shortness of breath, swelling of the legs, water retention, heart palpitations, and severe swelling of the abdomen. This will warn them that their pericarditis has developed into a more serious complication.

If You Feel You Are Suffering These Symptoms Of Pericarditis, See Your Doctor

If you have suffered from pericarditis or suspect you are having an attack, please do get medical attention. It is a treatable disease and combined  with lifestyle changes and dietary improvements and a good medical team, patients have an excellent prognosis. The importance of being aware of the symptoms of pericarditis is key to your health and well being.

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