The pericardium is a thin, membrane surrounding your heart. Pericarditis is the swelling and inflammation of this sac. In most cases pericarditis is mild. It clears up on its own with simple treatment and rest. Some patients need further treatment to prevent complications. Viral infections are a common cause of pericarditis. Other causes are certain health disorders, traumas, medications or systemic inflammatory disorders. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent long-term complications. As many other conditions may cause similar symptoms, blood tests, a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram (ECG) or an echocardiogram can help to diagnosis.
Stabbing chest pain
The most common symptom of pericarditis is a stabbing pain in the chest. The sac consists of two layers. Sometimes the space between the layers fills with fluid from inflammation. It results in friction with the heart. You usually feel the pain in the center or the left side of the chest or behind your breastbone. If you have sudden chest pains, you need to get medical advice. Most cases of pericarditis are not serious, but it’s important to rule out other conditions. If it is pericarditis, the pain responds well to treatment with anti-inflammatory painkillers.
Shoulder and neck pain
You may find that the pain radiates from your left shoulder and neck. It gets worse when you breathe deeply, cough or lie down. Some people report feeling the pain as a dull ache or burning sensation. The symptoms of acute pericarditis may only last for a few days. But, chronic pericarditis may last several months. CoQ10, Vitamin E, and magnesium are good supplements to take to maintain the heart’s health. Eating certain foods can help to fight inflammation. Pineapple, which contains bromeliad, is one of these foods. Consuming green leafy vegetables, almonds, fatty fish, and blueberries keep your heart healthy.
Shortness of breath
Pain is usually worse when taking a deep breath. Sitting up and leaning forward will bring some relief. It is so because it allows the heart to relax within the chest cavity. In mild cases of pericarditis, you need over-the-counter pain medications and some rest. While you are getting better, you need to avoid strenuous physical activity. This can worsen the symptoms.
Palpitations are common and harmless, but they can be frightening. You may feel as though your heart is fluttering, skipping a beat or beating too fast or too hard. Palpitations usually go away without treatment. But they may be a sign of more serious heart problems. You should seek medical attention if you have palpitations together with other symptoms. These are such as pain in your chest and breathing problems. Sometimes this condition can persist for more than two weeks. Then, you must take medicines that reduce inflammation.
A fever is an increase in the body temperature above normal. A low-grade fever is when body temperature is only mildly elevated. It is a sign that your body is fighting to heal itself. A mild fever is usually no cause for concern and is easily treatable. Treatment involves resolving the inflammation that is responsible for the fever. Drinking more fluids and resting will also help to bring down a fever. If a bacterial infection is the underlying cause of your pericarditis, you will have to take antibiotics.
Overall weakness and fatigue
You may feel tired and lack energy. It is very important to rest instead of trying to push yourself. Treating the symptoms and resting are important if you want to get better and feel energetic. If the pain persists and the underlying cause (e.g., an infection) is known, treating it will bring relief. You may need to stay in the hospital during treatment for pericarditis. This will help your doctor to check you for complications.
Sometimes a medical condition or medication irritates the nerve endings in the airways. This can cause coughing. With pericarditis, you may experience a dry cough. If the cause of coughing is unknown, your doctor will take your medical history. The doctor will examine you thoroughly. If you have any a cough, you should avoid smoking and other irritants. Certain medications may help to relieve your cough. Medication will be the first choice of therapy unless your pericarditis gets severe. In this case, more intense treatment may be necessary.
Abdominal and leg swelling
The pericardium can thicken and contract in cases of long-term inflammation. In severe cases of chronic pericarditis, swelling of the stomach and legs can occur. This is a sign that the heart is no longer able to function properly. If you don’t respond to other medication and your symptoms keep recurring, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid. Treatment with corticosteroids is a question of balancing benefits and risks. They reduce inflammation, but they may have serious side effects. In some cases, corticosteroids have been known to make the condition worse.
Some people with pericarditis develop thickening and scarring of the pericardium. This is not common, but it can happen with recurrences of inflammation. The sac loses its elasticity and prevents the heart from working properly. If scarring gets significant, the surgeon may cut a hole in the pericardial sac (pericardiotomy). It helps to improve heart function. Removing the sac completely is another surgical option. This procedure (pericardiotomy) involves stripping the pericardium away from the heart muscle. A pericardiectomy is usually a last resort as it is quite risky. In as many as 1 out of 20 cases it may cause death.
Cardiac tamponade is a dangerous condition. It develops from too much fluid in the pericardium. The excess fluid prevents the heart from filling properly. Less blood leaves the heart and blood pressure drops. This condition can be fatal and needs prompt treatment. The indications of cardiac tamponade are low blood pressure, distended veins in the neck and muffled heart sounds. It happens when fluid in the pericardium increases. Treatment for this condition involves inserting a needle into the sac (pericardiocentesis) and removing the fluid. You will also receive medication, fluids, and oxygen to increase blood pressure.