Understanding Pericarditis

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the sac that surrounds your heart. Pericarditis may be caused by a virus or bacterial infection, such as tuberculosis, or by an injury. It often occurs after a respiratory infection, and is most common in men between the ages of 20 and 5O.

Warning Signs

Pericarditis causes chest pains radiating to the left side of the neck, shoulder, back or abdomen. Breathlessness and swelling of the abdomen are common symptoms as well.

Testing for Pericarditis

If you have these symptoms, your doctor may perform an x-ray and record an electrocardiogram and echocardiogram to make sure you are not having a heart attack.

Treating Pericarditis

Treatment of Pericarditis depends on the cause. When the cause is a bacterial infection or tuberculosis, antibiotics or anti-tuberculosis drugs may be prescribed. Analgesics are given for pain, and diuretics help reduce swelling and fluid retention. Most patients recover from Pericarditis in two weeks to three months.

Cardiac Tamponade often a complication of pericarditis, cardiac tamponade results when fluid accumulates in the space between the pericardium and the heart. The pressure of the fluid on the heart results in decreased blood flow to the lungs and the rest of the body. The excess fluid may need to be drained through a catheter, in a process called pericardiocentesis.

Constrictive Pericarditis

Pericarditis often recurs, and sometimes there is permanent damage. In constrictive pericarditis, the pericardium is scarred, thickened and contracted. The heart muscle cannot effectively expand between contractions and fill with blood. Surgery may be needed to remove portions or all of the pericardium so the heart can expand freely.

Take good care of your heart by eating a low-fat diet, exercising regularly, being moderate about alcohol and smoking, getting regular checkups and keeping the stress in your life at manageable levels. Call your doctor if you experience chest pains or other symptoms of heart disease.

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