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What is pericarditis? — Pericarditis is a condition that causes irritation of the tissue around your heart. This tissue (called the pericardium) forms a sac that protects your heart and keeps it from rubbing against nearby organs (figure 1).
What are the symptoms of pericarditis? — Symptoms of pericarditis can include:
Chest pain
Chest pain is the most common pericarditis symptom. It can be a sharp pain or a dull ache. You might feel pain in the front of your chest, your shoulder, or your upper back.
If you have sharp chest pain, it might get worse when you take a deep breath. If the pain is a dull ache, it might get better when you sit up and lean forward.
Is there a test for pericarditis? — Yes. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do one or more of these tests:
An electrocardiogram (ECG) – This test measures the electrical activity in your heart (figure 2).
An echocardiogram – This test uses sound waves to create an image of your heart as it beats (figure 3).
Chest X-ray – An X-ray can show if there is a large amount of fluid around your heart.
Blood tests – These measure the levels of certain proteins in your blood, which hold clues about the health of your heart. Certain proteins go up in response to pericarditis. Doctors can measure the levels of these proteins to check for pericarditis and to see if it is improving.
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. See your doctor or nurse right away if:
You have chest pain
You feel short of breath, weak, or faint
You have swelling in your legs or other parts of the body
If you think you might be having a heart attack, call for an ambulance right away (in the US and Canada, dial 9-1-1). Do not try to get to the hospital on your own.
How is pericarditis treated? — The main treatments for pericarditis are:
Medicines to reduce pain and inflammation, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin), or indomethacin (brand name: Indocin)
A medicine called colchicine (brand name: Colcrys)
If you need more treatment, your doctor can:
Give you steroids and other medicines to reduce inflammation (not the same steroids athletes take to build up muscle)
Do surgery to remove swollen, irritated tissue from around the heart
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 16976 Version 6.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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