Pericarditis - Dream Health

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Thursday 9 April 2015


Pericarditis – Swelling of the Pericardium around the Heart

Pericardium is a thin, double layered fluid filled sac which covers the exterior surface of the heart and shields the heart from any type of infection or malignancy. Besides this, it also prevents the heart from expanding too much whenever the blood volume increases thus enabling the functioning of the heart in an efficient manner.

Pericarditis is the swelling of the pericardium surrounding the heart where the main symptom is chest pain which could be sudden, sharp with stabbing pain behind the breastbone or something like a dull ache. The pain tends to get worse on lying down or breathing in and improves in a sitting position.

Pericarditis is not a serious condition and can be treated as an outpatient treatment without the need to be hospitalized. It is said to be an inflammation of the pericardium which develops suddenly and could last for several months.

On seeing and touching it, the membrane surrounding the heart tends to get swollen and seems red like the skin around a cut which gets inflamed. At times the excess fluid develops in the area between the pericardial layers causing pericardial effusion or build-up of excess fluid around the heart.

Symptoms of Pericarditis

The symptoms of chest pain connected with pericarditis are – sharp and stabbing pain, caused by the heart which rubs against the pericardium, which could increase with swallowing, coughing or deep breathing or lying flat, gets relieve on sitting up and leaning forward, or may feel the need to bend over or hold the cheat in order to breathe with ease.

Other symptoms would include, dry cough, anxiety or fatigue, pain in the back, left shoulder or neck and difficulty in breathing while lying down. In some cases, there could be swelling of the feet, ankles or legs and these symptoms could be of constrictive pericarditis which is a serious form of pericarditis.

In these cases, the patient’s pericardium tends to get harden and/or thickens thus preventing the heart muscles from expanding thereby affecting the efficient function of the heart. Due to the constrictive process, the heart could be compressed causing the blood to back up into the lungs, abdomen as well as the legs thus resulting in the swelling.

Various Causes of Pericarditis

Men in the age group of 20 to 50 could suffer from pericarditis though it could also occur in women. There are various causes of pericarditis thoughit could at times be a complication of viral infection, usually a gastrointestinal virus or rare cases of flu virus or AIDS.

 It could also be due to bacterial infection, fungal infection or parasitic infection. Some cases of certain autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis lupus and scleroderma could also cause pericarditis while other additional causes could include injury to the chest like a car accident – traumatic pericarditis, and other health problems like kidney failure, tumours, and genetic disease as Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF).

Other rare cases could be medication which could suppress the immune system. It is said the risk of pericarditis is much greater after a heart attack or after a heart surgery, radiation therapy or a percutaneous treatment like cardiac catheterization or RFA – radio-frequency ablation.

Acute pericarditis is treated with medication to reduce swelling though antibiotics could be used if suffering from bacterial infection. Chronic pericarditis is treated based on the underlying causes.

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