What is pericarditis?

The pericardium consists of two thin layers of tissue that line the heart and help hold it in place. A lubricating fluid between the layers keeps them from rubbing together. If the layers of tissue rub together, the pericardium becomes irritated and swollen, and may cause sharp chest pain. This condition is called pericarditis, which is commonly caused by a viral infection and may also be the result of a bacterial or fungal infection. It may also occur as a result of:

Some people with pericarditis have it in relation to other medical conditions, such as AIDS, cancer or kidney failure.

Finding pericarditis in the early stages can prevent complications in the future. The condition generally goes away on its own. If it lasts longer than three months, it is considered chronic pericarditis, but this is generally caused by an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack itself.

Symptoms of pericarditis

The chest pain associated with pericarditis usually comes on quickly and may be a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull, aching pressure. Some people experience relief by changing positions, such as leaning forward. Other symptoms you may have include:

Diagnosis and testing for pericarditis

If you have symptoms that are concerning you or you have experienced new chest pain, be sure to talk with your doctor. He or she will listen to your chest to hear if there may be excess in the chest. Your doctor may also order tests, such as:

If you are diagnosed with pericarditis, your doctor may prescribe certain medications that help reduce inflammation (swelling and irritation) and provide relief from your symptoms.