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Pericarditis – Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the membrane covering the heart.

Definition of pericarditis

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium , a membrane that covers the heart. This inflammation is accompanied by swelling in this membrane, in particular due to an excess of fluid flowing between the pericardium and the heart.

The main symptoms of pericarditis result in pain in the chest. These pains can occur suddenly, acute and of significant intensity. The pain is usually greater at night when lying down and less at sitting.

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This inflammation of the pericardium is, in the majority of the cases, not serious if this one is taken care of and a suitable and early treatment.

There are different types of pericarditis:

  • acute pericarditis: characterized by intense symptoms but not lasting more than three months. Symptoms usually subside after one week, as part of an appropriate drug monitoring;
  • chronic pericarditis : which associates complications with the first symptoms, and which extends over a period of more than three months;
  • idiopathic pericarditis: defined by a recurrence of symptoms associated with acute pericarditis.

Causes of pericarditis

An infection of the pericardium may be the cause of pericarditis.

Other causes may also promote the development of pericarditis, such as:

  • surgery of the heart;
  • certain cancers ;
  • certain treatments, including radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Idiopathic pericarditis and chronic pericarditis may also be related to a deficiency of the patient’s immune system (underlying chronic conditions, age, etc.)

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People at highest risk for pericarditis

Pericarditis is a relatively common inflammation of the pericardium and results in hospitalization in only 5% of cases.

Both men and women are likely to develop this type of inflammation. Pericarditis also affects all ages, with predominance in adults.

Evolution and possible complications of pericarditis

In rare cases, acute pericarditis may lead to other problems or may develop into idiopathic or chronic pericarditis.

As part of the development of chronic pericarditis, drug therapy and surgery are available to address this and to limit potential complications.

In extreme cases, pericarditis may be vital, but this is exceptional.

The symptoms of pericarditis

Symptoms common to all types of pericarditis are: pains in the chest.

These pains are usually sudden, and intense. Some patients even report pain as a result of significant fatigue or a significant stress situation.

The pain can also extend to the left shoulder or the neck. It is even more important when lying down, or while having a meal.

Other symptoms may also be related to pericarditis:

  • fever ;
  • of breathing difficulties ;
  • severe fatigue ;
  • of nausea ;
  • cough important;
  • the swelling in the abdomen or legs.

In rare cases, pericarditis may worsen as myocarditis: inflammation of the heart muscle.

In the context of a finding of significant pain in the chest, it is strongly recommended to make an appointment with the doctor as soon as possible, to avoid any possible complications: heart attack or formation of a blood clot.

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How to treat pericarditis?

Pericarditis is usually treated with medication. Among these, we find:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs;
  • Colchicine;
  • corticosteroids;
  • antibiotics, as part of a bacterial infection.

Hospitalization is prescribed in the context of:

  • a significant temperature;
  • a blood test showing an excessive decrease in white blood cells (significant for an infection);
  • the development of symptoms following surgery;

The recurrence of pericarditis is possible, in this context it is a development of idiopathic pericarditis.

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