Pericarditis is inflammation of the thin, sac-like membrane that surrounds the heart (the pericardium). The membrane has two layers separated by a thin layer of fluid that lets the heart move as it beats.

What causes pericarditis?

Pericarditis can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, a heart attack, and radiation treatment, an injury to the chest or esophagus, or certain medications that suppress the immune system. In some cases, the exact cause of pericarditis is hard to pinpoint.

Symptoms of pericarditis

Most people with pericarditis experience a sharp or stabbing pain in the center or left side of their chest. Sometimes the pain spreads to the neck or left shoulder and may be worse when you take a deep breath or change position.

Other symptoms of pericarditis may include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing

How is pericarditis diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose pericarditis by listening to your chest with a stethoscope and by reviewing the results from several tests, including:

How is pericarditis treated?

Your doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and pain relievers to treat pericarditis. You may also need antibiotics if your pericarditis is caused by an infection. Your doctor may also need to perform a pericardiocentesis – a procedure that removes fluid from the pericardium. This reduces the pressure on your heart. In some rare cases, your doctor may recommend more involved surgery.