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Pericarditis involves inflammation of the pericardium. The pericardium is a slim tissue sac that borders the heart and comprised of:

  • Visceral pericardium – interior layer that covers the entire heart
  • Middle fluid layer that prevents friction amid the visceral pericardium and the parietal pericardium
  • Parietal pericardium – external layer made out of tough tissue

Possible causes of pericarditis

  • Infections
  • Heart attack
  • Heart surgery
  • Tumors
  • Trauma
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Radiation

In some individuals, there is no exact cause. Take note that pericarditis can be acute or chronic.


The chest pain usually sharp and located in the middle of the chest.

Once present, the symptoms of pericarditis can include the following:

  • Chest pain – usually sharp and located in the middle of the chest. The pain radiates to the neck and shoulders, occasionally in the arms and the back. This can be aggravated when lying down, swallowing, coughing and relieved by sitting forward.
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low-grade fever

How is it diagnosed

The doctor will diagnose pericarditis based on the following:

  • Symptoms present
  • Physical examination
  • Results of the electrocardiogram (ECG)

In some cases, other tests are performed in order to determine the exact cause of pericarditis.


The treatment is usually based on the exact and might include the following:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to minimize the inflammation and pain.
  • Antibiotics if due to an infection
  • Steroids can be used occasionally for severe attacks
  • Colchicine can be given if the symptoms persist for several weeks or occur on a recurrent basis

Many individuals are able to recover from pericarditis in 2-4 weeks.

What is constrictive pericarditis?

When it comes to constrictive pericarditis, it usually develops if the pericardium becomes thickened and scarred. This makes it hard for the heart to expand with blood.

The symptoms are similar as pericarditis with the addition of the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Atrial fibrillation or erratic heart rate
  • Symptoms of heart failure

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on pericarditis is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage heart conditions including pericarditis by taking a standard first aid course with Victoria First Aid.

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