Pericarditis Diagnosis and Tests

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Making a pericarditis diagnosis can mean several different diagnostic tests. If the signs and symptoms are present, it is very important that the patient see their doctor to begin the diagnostic process. When this condition is caught early, it often has a favorable outcome.

Physical Examination

Diagnosing this condition will begin with a routine physical exam. The doctor will begin by having the patient’s weight, height, respirations, blood pressure, and other examination basics. The doctor will then ask the patient about their past and current medical history and their current symptoms. The doctor will also take the time to listen to how the patient’s heart sounds, to listen for the characteristic sounds of pericarditis. Once this portion of the diagnostic evaluation is over, the doctor will schedule all necessary additional tests they feel the patient should go through to make an accurate diagnosis, such as testing to determine if the patient has had a heart attack, for signs of inflammation, and to determine whether any fluid has accumulated in the pericardial sac.


This diagnostic tests involves placing electrodes on specific points on the patients body. These electrodes measure the electrical impulses the heart gives off and records them as waves on printed paper or a monitor. Certain ECG results may indicate a heart attack while others may indicate pericarditis.


With this diagnostic test, a picture of the heart and the heart’s structures is obtained through the use of high-frequency sound waves. This test can also create a picture showing whether or not fluid has accumulated in the pericardium.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

This imaging test is done to look for changes in the pericardium, such as thickening. It takes cross-sectional images of the heart through the used of radio waves and a magnetic field.

Chest X-Ray

This is a basic x-ray that can produce images that allows the doctor to look at the shape and size of the patient’s heart. It can show whether or not there is fluid accumulation in the pericardium or if the heart is enlarged.

Computerized Tomography

This diagnostic imaging test can produce more detailed pictures of the pericardium and heart than a traditional x-ray can. This test may also be performed to rule out other causes of acute chest pain, such as aortic dissection (tear in the aorta) or pulmonary embolus (lung artery blood clot).

Other Tests

Certain other tests may be performed to help confirm a pericarditis diagnosis, such as:

  • Radionuclide scanning
  • Blood culture
  • C-reactive protein
  • HIV serology
  • Tuberculin skin test
  • Complete blood count
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • Pericardiocentesis

To determine if a heart attack occurred, the patient may go through a laboratory test known as the serial cardiac marker levels test.

Resources (2009). Pericarditis. Retrieved on September 14, 2010 from

MedlinePlus. (2010). Pericarditis. Retrieved on September 24, 2010 from MedlinePlus: