What are the symptoms and treatment options for pericarditis?

Symptom Database

Pericarditis is a condition characterized by the inflammation of the pericardium, a thin sac-like membrane that surrounds the heart. This heart condition can cause various symptoms and discomfort, leading to significant distress for those affected. Understanding the symptoms and treatment options for pericarditis is crucial for timely diagnosis and effective management of this condition.

Symptoms of Pericarditis

Pericarditis often presents with several noticeable symptoms that can vary in intensity and duration. These symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain: One of the most common symptoms of pericarditis is chest pain. The pain is typically sharp and stabbing, and it may worsen when taking deep breaths or lying down. The discomfort can radiate to the neck, back, or shoulders.
  • Shortness of breath: Pericarditis can cause difficulty breathing, especially during physical activity or when lying flat. This symptom is often associated with the accumulation of fluid in the pericardial sac, known as pericardial effusion.
  • Fever: In some cases, pericarditis may be accompanied by a low-grade fever. This fever is usually mild and may be accompanied by other flu-like symptoms.
  • Heart palpitations: Individuals with pericarditis may experience irregular heartbeats or a sensation of rapid heartbeats. These palpitations can be unsettling and may cause anxiety.
  • Fatigue: Pericarditis can lead to feelings of fatigue and weakness. This symptom is often a result of the body’s response to inflammation and the added strain on the heart.

Causes of Pericarditis

Pericarditis can have various causes, including:

  • Viral infections: Viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, are a common cause of pericarditis. The inflammation occurs as a result of the body’s immune response to the infection.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, can trigger pericarditis. In these cases, the immune system mistakenly attacks the pericardium, leading to inflammation.
  • Heart attack: Pericarditis can develop as a complication of a heart attack. The damaged heart tissue can cause inflammation in the pericardium.
  • Trauma: Trauma to the chest, such as a car accident or a severe blow, can cause pericarditis. The inflammation occurs due to the injury to the pericardium.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as certain antibiotics or anticoagulants, have been associated with pericarditis as a rare side effect.

Treatment Options for Pericarditis

The treatment of pericarditis aims to relieve symptoms, reduce inflammation, and prevent complications. The specific treatment approach may vary depending on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Common treatment options include:


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often prescribed to reduce inflammation and relieve pain associated with pericarditis. These medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, can help manage mild to moderate cases. In more severe cases, corticosteroids may be prescribed to suppress the immune response and reduce inflammation.


Colchicine, a medication commonly used to treat gout, has shown effectiveness in managing recurrent pericarditis. It helps reduce inflammation and prevent future episodes of pericarditis. Colchicine is often prescribed in combination with other medications.


In cases where pericardial effusion causes significant symptoms or poses a risk to the heart’s function, a procedure called pericardiocentesis may be performed. This procedure involves the insertion of a needle or catheter into the pericardial sac to drain the excess fluid. Pericardiocentesis can provide immediate relief and prevent complications.


In rare cases, when other treatment options fail or complications arise, surgery may be necessary. Surgical interventions, such as a pericardiectomy, involve the removal of part or all of the pericardium. This procedure is typically reserved for severe or chronic cases of pericarditis.


Pericarditis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the pericardium, causing symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. It can be caused by viral infections, autoimmune disorders, heart attacks, trauma, or certain medications. Treatment options for pericarditis include medications, such as NSAIDs and corticosteroids, colchicine, pericardiocentesis, and surgery in severe cases. If you experience symptoms of pericarditis, it is essential to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Early intervention can help alleviate symptoms and prevent complications, promoting a healthier heart condition.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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