Pericarditis

  • Symptoms
    • Ankle, feet, and leg swelling (occasionally)
    • Anxiety
    • Breathing difficulty when lying down
    • Chest pain, caused by the inflamed pericardium rubbing against the heart
      • May radiate to the neck, shoulder, back, or abdomen
      • Often increases with deep breathing and lying flat, and may increase with coughing and swallowing
      • Pleuritis type: a sharp, stabbing pain
      • Usually relieved by sitting up and leaning forward
    • Dry cough
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Need to bend over or hold the chest while breathing

    Signs and tests

    When listening to the heart with a stethoscope, the health care provider can hear a sound called a pericardial rub. The heart sounds may be muffled or distant. There may be other signs of fluid in the pericardium (pericardial effusion).

    If the disorder is severe, there may be:

    • Crackles in the lungs
    • Decreased breath sounds
    • Other signs of fluid in the space around the lungs (pleural effusion)

    If fluid has built up in the pericardial sac, it may show on:

    • Chest MRI scan
    • Chest x-ray
    • ECG
    • Echocardiogram
    • Heart MRI or heart CT scan
    • Radionuclide scanning

    These tests show:

    • Enlargement of the heart
    • Signs of inflammation
    • Scarring and contracture of the pericardium (constrictive pericarditis)

    Other findings vary depending on the cause of pericarditis.

    To rule out heart attack, the health care provider may order serial cardiac marker levels (CPK-MB and troponin I). Other laboratory tests may include:

    • Blood culture
    • CBC
    • C-reactive protein
    • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
    • HIV serology
    • Pericardiocentesis, with chemical analysis and pericardial fluid culture
    • Tuberculin skin test