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The pericardium is a sac-like, thin membrane that covers the heart’s exterior as well as the roots of the blood vessels that are connected to the heart. It has an outer and inner layer, with a small amount of lubricating fluid between the two layers. The lubricant permits the layers to easily move and adjust whenever the heart contracts.
Introduction
 
Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the sac that envelops your heart. Common causes include systemic disease, autoimmune disorder, or infection. Pericarditis may cause difficulty breathing and sharp, piercing chest pain. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience symptoms. Though it can be treated with minor surgery or medications, pericarditis can be life threatening if left untreated.
 
Anatomy
 
The pericardium is a sac-like, thin membrane that covers the heart’s exterior as well as the roots of the blood vessels that are connected to the heart. It has an outer and inner layer, with a small amount of lubricating fluid between the two layers. The lubricant permits the layers to easily move and adjust whenever the heart contracts.
 
Causes
 
Typically, the exact cause of pericarditis is an unknown reason. However, pericarditis can result from a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection, as well as cancer, radiation treatment, surgery, injury, or heart attack. Pericarditis is associated with medical conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, cancer, leukemia, tuberculosis, HIV, AIDS, and kidney failure. Adenovirus or Coxsackie virus most frequently cause pericarditis in children.
 
Symptoms
 
A common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain that may be sharp, stabbing, and spread to your back, neck and shoulders, or abdomen. Coughing, lying flat, deep breathing, and swallowing may increase the pain, while leaning forward or sitting up can reduce the pain.
 
You may have difficulty breathing when you lay down and need to hold your chest or bend over as you breathe. You may experience fatigue, general malaise, dry cough, anxiety, fever, and swollen ankles, feet, and legs.
 
Diagnosis
 
Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect having pericarditis. Inform your doctor about your symptoms and risk factors. Your doctor will listen to your lungs and heart and conduct some blood tests. Sometimes, tests will be performed to eliminate the possibility that it was a heart attack. Your doctor may also collect and culture the fluid from around your heart.
 
Imaging tests such as a chest X-ray, computed tomography scan, or magnetic resonance imaging scan may be used to determine if there are signs of inflammation, fluid buildup in the pericardium, enlarged heart, or scarring. Your doctor may also order an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, or radionuclide scanning.
 
Treatment
 
Treatment will vary based on the cause of your pericarditis. Medication can reduce fluid buildup, relieve pain, and treat infections. In some cases, a minor surgical procedure will be required to drain fluid from the sac. Pericarditis cases are resolved successfully with prompt treatment.
 
Prevention
 
Because untreated pericarditis can result in life-threatening medical complications, contact your doctor as soon as possible if you suspect that you have pericarditis.
 
Am I At Risk
 
People with systemic diseases, autoimmune conditions, or influenza have a high risk of developing pericarditis. Men between the ages of 20 and 50 years old are at a higher risk after they have had a respiratory infection. Sometimes, a heart attack may cause pericarditis.
 
Complications
 
Untreated or chronic pericarditis may result in life-threatening complications by leading to erratic heartbeat and heart failure.