Pericarditis refers to inflammation of the sac or membrane that encloses the heart. This sac is known as the pericardium, and it functions to keep the heart in place, so that it can function properly. It consists of two layers of tissue, which have a small amount of fluid in between. The fluid prevents the layers from rubbing against one another and causing friction. When the pericardium is inflamed, the layers of tissue can cause friction on the heart, resulting in chest pain. Pericarditis can disrupt the normal rhythm or function of the heart, and it can possibly lead to death, although it rarely does.
Causes of Pericarditis
Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections can all cause pericarditis. The condition usually develops after a respiratory infection. It is believed that cases of recurring or chronic pericarditis are mostly caused by autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma. These disorders cause the immune system to produce antibodies that mistakenly attack tissues and cells. Other known causes of pericarditis include heart attack, heart surgery, cancer, HIV or AIDS, tuberculosis, kidney failure, injuries from accidents, radiation therapy, and medications such as warfarin, heparin, phenytoin, and procainamide.
Symptoms of Pericarditis
One of the most common symptoms of pericarditis is chest pain. The pain is sharp and stabbing, and it usually occurs in the middle or left part of the chest, and sometimes, in the shoulders. In some cases, it may feel like pressure or dull ache in the chest. Other symptoms of pericarditis include fever, weakness, breathing difficulty, coughing, and palpitations. People who are suffering from severe chronic pericarditis may experience swelling in the legs and stomach, and low blood pressure. Serious complications of the condition include chronic constrictive pericarditis and cardiac tamponade.
We will talk about the diagnosis and treatment of pericarditis in our next post.