The pericardium is a membranous sac that surrounds the heart. In pericarditis, this sac becomes inflamed or infected. The most common cause of this disease is infection with a virus or bacteria. Pericarditis can also develop after a heart attack or other heart injury, in conjunction with myocarditis, or after chest radiation therapy.
Common symptoms of pericarditis include dry cough, fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and anxiety. Some people have swelling of the legs, feet, and ankles. Another symptom is chest pain that radiates to the back, shoulders, abdomen, or neck. Often the pain is worse when breathing deeply, or when lying on the back. For some people, the pain is a sharp stabbing type of pain called pleuritis.
Treatment of pericarditis first includes antibiotics, antivirals, or antifungal medications to control the organism causing the infection. Analgesics and anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and inflammation, and diuretics to remove excess water, might also be prescribed. When inflammation is very severe, a short course of corticosteroids might be needed.
In cases of chronic or recurrent pericarditis, surgery might be required. The procedure most often used involves removing a section of the pericardium.