Pericardium and Pericarditis
What is the pericardium?
The pericardium (pair"e-KAR'de-um) is the thin sac (membrane) that surrounds the heart and the roots of the great blood vessels.
What is pericarditis?
Pericarditis (pair"e-kar-DI'tis) is inflammation of the pericardium. The pericardium has an inner and outer layer with a small amount of lubricating fluid between them. When the pericardium becomes inflamed, the amount of fluid between the two layers increases. This squeezes the heart and restricts its action.
Who gets pericarditis and what does it feel like?
This problem occurs most often in men ages 20 to 50. Chest pain is common, especially pain behind the breastbone. Sometimes this pain spreads to the neck and left shoulder. Pain from pericarditis is different from angina (AN'jih-nah or an-JI'nah). (Angina is chest pain or discomfort due to reduced blood supply to the heart muscle.) Angina feels like pressure, but pericarditis usually is a sharp, piercing pain over the center or left side of the chest. Often this pain gets worse if the person takes a deep breath. Less often the pain is dull. A fever is also common. Often people with pericarditis report feeling sick. Some have pain when they swallow.
What causes pericarditis?
In most cases, why pericarditis occurs is unknown. However, it can result from one or more of these:
- a viral, bacterial or fungal infection
- heart attack
- cancer spreading from a nearby tumor in the lung, breast or the blood
- radiation treatment
- injury or surgery
Sometimes it accompanies rheumatoid arthritis, lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) (e-rith"eh-mah-TO'sus) and kidney failure.
How is pericarditis treated?
Analgesics or anti-inflammatory drugs are given to relieve pain. Antibiotics are also prescribed if the pericarditis is due to a bacterial infection. If excess fluid is seriously affecting the heart's action, a needle may be used to draw it off. In some cases surgery may be required.
Acute inflammatory pericarditis usually lasts one to three weeks and doesn't lead to further problems. About 20 percent of pericarditis patients have a recurrence within months or, rarely, within years.