Pericarditis

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Pericarditis facts

  • Pericarditis is an inflammation of the lining surrounding the heart (the pericardial sac).
  • Pericardial effusion is a collection of fluid in the pericardial sac. This fluid may be produced by inflammation.
  • The cause of pericarditis in most patients is unknown but is likely due to viral infection. Pericarditis may be an associated complication of many diseases or may be due to trauma.
  • The diagnosis of pericarditis is made by history and physical examination. Testing usually includes an EKG, chest X-ray, and echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart. The inflammation of pericarditis is usually treated with anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen). It is important to treat the underlying disease or illness if one is present.
  • Pericardial tamponade occurs when enough fluid accumulates in the sac to compromise the heart's ability to adequately pump blood.
  • Tamponade is a medical emergency and is treated by pericardiocentesis, inserting a needle into the pericardial sac to remove the fluid.

What is pericarditis?

The heart muscle has a tight covering that surrounds it, a lining sac called the pericardium (peri=around +cardium=heart). This sac actually has two layers. The visceral pericardium is only one cell layer thick and fits tightly onto the heart muscle. The parietal pericardium is much tougher and thicker and has fibers that tether the heart to the rib cage and diaphragm. There is a potential space between the layers, meaning that in normal situations, it has a minimal amount of fluid. However, should inflammation occur, it can fill with fluid. Inflammation of the lining of the heart is called pericarditis (itis=inflammation).

Picture of the heart in the pericardial sac.
Picture of the heart in the pericardial sac.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/23/2013

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Pericarditis Definition

Inflammation of the lining around the heart (the pericardium) that causes chest pain and accumulation of fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion). There are many causes of pericarditis, including infections, injury, radiation treatment, and chronic diseases.

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