People can suffer from chest pains for many different reasons. One possible cause is a condition known as pericarditis, which is the swelling and irritation of the pericardium, a saclike tissue around the heart. The pain from pericarditis is usually sharp, and happens because the pericardium’s irritated layers rub against one another. Fortunately, pericarditis tends to be mild and usually goes away on its own, not requiring treatment. However, there are more severe cases, and any chest pain should be treated as serious. Here is some information to help you understand it better.
What Are the Symptoms of Pericarditis?
The most common symptom of pericarditis is that sharp chest pain, though it may also spread to the left shoulder and the neck. The pain could worsen when you lay down, take a deep breath, or cough, and may feel better when you sit up or lean forward. Some other symptoms and signs may be:
- Fatigue, feeling of weakness
- Leg swelling
- Shortness of breath when you are lying down
- Swelling of your abdomen
- Low-grade fever
Pericarditis may be acute (lasting no longer than three weeks) and may return. Recurrent pericarditis is when it returns after 4 to 6 weeks without symptoms between the events. You may have incessant pericarditis where it lasts less than three months, or chronic constrictive pericarditis, which is slow to develop, but lasts longer than three months.
What Causes Pericarditis?
The cause of any specific case of pericarditis can be difficult to find, and may not always be discovered. It may be an immune system response after a person suffers heart damage as a result of heart surgery or a heart attack. Pericarditis may also be caused by:
- Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or other inflammatory disorders
- An injury to the chest or heart
- Kidney failure, cancer, or other chronic health conditions
- COVID-19 or other infections
How is Pericarditis Diagnosed?
Pericarditis is most easily diagnosed using a stethoscope, as the condition causes a sound called a pericardial rub. Your physician will run blood tests, as well, to see if there are signs of a heart attack, infection, and inflammation. They may also conduct an x-ray or echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound technology to see if there is fluid buildup around the heart. They may also use a cardiac computerized tomography (or CT) scan to see if the heart has thickened, or use MRI technology to see cross-sections of the heart to show inflammation, thickening, or other signs of problems in the tissue that surrounds the heart.
How is Pericarditis Treated?
Your doctor will determine the best course of action if it is determined that you have pericarditis. It may be as simple as the prescription of pain relievers (over-the-counter medications are sometimes also recommended), or a drug called colchicine, which reduces inflammation and can be used to treat recurring bouts of pericarditis. Corticosteroids are also sometimes prescribed to reduce inflammation. In more serious cases, such as when pericarditis causes fluid buildup or has hardened due to pericarditis, surgery may be the best option.