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 Pericarditis is an infection of the pericardium – the thin, tough bag-like membrane surrounding the heart. Pericarditis can be acute, coming on suddenly, or chronic, developing over a long period of time.

Types of pericarditis
  • Acute fibrinous pericarditis occurs when the pericardium is inflamed and covered with a layer of material called fibrin.
  • Acute purulent pericarditis occurs when the pericardium is covered with thick pus.
  • Acute constrictive pericarditis occurs when the pericardium is covered with a dense mass of calcified fibrosis material.
  • Chronic pericarditis is caused by a long-term infection such as tuberculosis.

Acute pericarditis may be caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection, or by rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, erythematous, kidney failure, scleroderma or tumours. It may also develop as a result of a heart attack, heart surgery, serious chest injury or using certain medications that suppress your immune system. Although rare, chronic pericarditis may be caused by a chronic infection such as tuberculosis.


Pericarditis may cause chest pain, sometimes described as sharp and severe, and sometimes as aching and overwhelming.


To diagnose pericarditis, your doctor will usually take a detailed medical history and listen to your heart during a physical exam. If you have pericarditis, your doctor may hear what is called a pericardial rub – a scratchy or grating noise – when listening to your heart with a stethoscope. This can often be heard in just a small area but can change position, and is usually accentuated if you lean forward and hold your breath.

Other tests that may be done include:

Blood tests
Cardiac catheterization
Chest X-ray
Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG)

Related information

To find useful services to help you on your journey with heart disease, see our list of government and community agencies.

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