Pericarditis is swelling (inflammation) of the pericardium - the sac which surrounds the heart. Pericarditis causes chest pains. Most cases are due to a viral infection which usually goes away within a few weeks. The only treatment usually needed for a 'viral pericarditis' is anti-inflammatory medication. There are some less common causes of pericarditis which may need other treatments. Complications are uncommon, but can be serious.
The pericardium is a thin sac-like tissue that covers the outer surface of the heart. It helps to anchor the heart in place, and prevents the heart from moving in the chest when you move. The pericardium has an inner and outer layer. There is a thin layer of 'lubricating' fluid between the two layers. Pericarditis means swelling (inflammation) of the pericardium.
Infection with a virus is the most common cause. Several different viruses can cause pericarditis, including Coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, influenza viruses, adenoviruses, the mumps virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and viruses that cause hepatitis.
Other causes are uncommon and include:
In many cases, no cause can be found. This is called idiopathic pericarditis. Many of these cases are probably caused by a viral infection which is not able to be identified.
Symptoms of viral and idiopathic pericarditis: The typical symptoms are chest pain and high temperature (fever). The pain is usually in the middle of the chest or slightly left of centre. It may feel sharp and stabbing. Sometimes it is a persistent steady pain. The pain may spread to the neck and/or shoulders. Typically, the pain gets worse if you take a deep breath, swallow, cough, or lie down. The pain may ease if you sit up or lean forward.You may also feel breathless, especially if tamponade develops (see below).