Skip to Content
Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Pericarditis
Pericarditis is swelling
and irritation of the
pericardium, which is the sac that surrounds your
Pericarditis usually doesn't cause serious problems. Most people get
better in 7 to 10 days. When there are problems, they may include:
Many things can cause pericarditis, including:
In many cases, the cause is not known.
The main symptom is a
sharp pain in the center or left side of your chest. The pain may spread to the shoulder blade. For some people, this pain is dull
instead of sharp. It may be worse when you lie down or take a deep
The pain lasts for hours or days and doesn't get better
when you rest. It's different from a type of chest pain called
angina, which only lasts a short time and usually gets
better with rest.
Other symptoms may include a mild fever,
weakness, feeling very tired, coughing, hiccups, and muscle aches.
Pericarditis usually isn't dangerous. But your chest pain could be
caused by something more serious, like a
heart attack. Getting diagnosed and treated early
can help keep pericarditis from leading to other problems. That's why you
should call a doctor right away if you have any kind of sudden chest
Your doctor will
listen to your heart during a physical exam. He or she will also ask questions
about your medical history, such as whether you've had a recent illness,
radiation treatment for cancer, or tuberculosis.
Your doctor may
want you to have some tests, including an
electrocardiogram, a chest X-ray, and blood
If the chest X-ray shows any fluid buildup, or if you have new or worse symptoms, such as shortness of breath, your doctor may want you to have a test
If there are no other problems,
pericarditis usually goes away on its own in a few weeks. During this time:
Be sure to keep all follow-up appointments with your doctor. If you have complications or the illness gets worse, you may need further treatment. This could include medicines or a procedure to relieve the fluid and pressure around your heart (pericardiocentesis).
Learning about pericarditis:
Other Works Consulted
Hoit BD (2011). Pericardial disease. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's the Heart, 13th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1917–1939. New York: McGraw-Hill.
LeWinter MM, Tischler MD (2012). Pericardial diseases. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1651–1671. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Maisch B, et al. (2004). Guidelines on the diagnosis
and management of pericardial diseases. Executive summary. European Heart Journal, 25(7): 587–610.
Welch TD, et al. (2012). Diseases of the pericardium, cardiac tumors, and cardiac trauma. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 4, chap. 16. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
Current as of:
March 12, 2014
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Learn how to prevent heart disease and maintain a healthy heart.
Tips, Videos & More »
Heart Attack Care
Heart Failure Care