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Pericarditis


 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.

Symptoms

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

Diagnosis

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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