What Is Pericarditis?
Pericarditis is when the pericardium, or the sac surrounding your heart, swells and becomes irritated.
The pericardium is a two-layered sac that keeps your heart in place in your chest and protects the heart from infection. Fluid between the layers keeps friction from building up when the heart beats.
This sac swells when it gets inflamed, often by a virus or bacteria, causing pericarditis.
Types of pericarditis
Pericarditis can be:
- Acute. It comes on suddenly and resolves on its own, often within three months.
- Chronic. It comes on slowly and can take longer to go away.
- Recurrent. It comes back after at least four weeks. Between the inflammation episodes, you have no symptoms. These episodes can come and go over months or years.
Causes of pericarditis
A viral infection is the most common cause of pericarditis. It may happen after a viral illness like the flu or bronchitis.
Some conditions can cause your body to react to a medical condition or treatment. Any event or condition that causes inflammation of the sac holding the heart can lead to pericarditis.
Other causes include:
- Heart attack.
- Chest injury.
- Heart surgery.
- Some autoimmune disorders.
Pericarditis risk factors
Men ages 16 to 65 are the most likely to get pericarditis. Often, the cause is unknown.
Recent viral illness is the most common risk factor.
Other risk factors include:
- Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma.
- Prior heart attack.
- Recent heart surgery, heart catheterization, or radiation.
- Kidney failure.
- Injury from an accident.
- Certain drugs, such as blood thinners, or to treat an irregular heartbeat.
This infection often doesn't cause serious complications, and symptoms resolve within a week or two.
Some pericarditis complications include:
- Fluid buildup around the heart.
- Sudden pressure on the heart makes it hard to pump enough blood.
- Thickening of the sac around the heart.
There's no way to prevent acute pericarditis.
But you can take steps to help prevent infections and reduce the risk of pericarditis.
- Avoid exposure to viruses, such as the flu.
- Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of illnesses.
- Stay up to date on vaccines.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine (Colchicine) to prevent recurrent pericarditis.