Dressler's syndrome (also called postpericardiotomy) is classified as a type of pericarditis, inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. The inflammation is believed to be a reaction of the immune system after a traumatic injury or damage to the heart tissue such as from a heart attack or open heart surgery. Dressler’s syndrome is less common that it used to be, however, once an individual has suffered from this condition, recurrence is likely to happen.
Two types of pericarditis can occur after a heart attack:
- Early pericarditis. A condition that usually occurs within 1 to 3 days after a heart attack. When the body tries to clean and repair the diseased heart tissue, swelling and inflammation occur.
- Late pericarditis (Dressler syndrome). A condition that usually occurs several weeks or months after a heart attack, open heart surgery, or other chest trauma. Dressler’s syndrome is believed to be caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy heart tissue.
Symptoms of Dressler’s syndrome are likely to appear 2-5 weeks or three months after a heart attack, open heart surgery or other chest trauma. These symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
When the heart tissue is damaged, the body reacts to injured tissue by sending immune cells and proteins called antibodies to clean and repair the damaged area; however, sometimes the reaction from the immune system causes excessive inflammation in the sac surrounding the heart, thus causing Dressler’s syndrome.
If an individual has had a previous episode of Dressler’s syndrome, it is more likely to recur. It seems more likely to occur after a large infarct.
Rare by occurring complications of Dressler’s syndrome may include:
- Cardiac tamponade: Pressure on the heart from fluid buildup in the area between the heart muscle (myocardium) and the outer sac of the heart (pericardium).
- Constrictive pericarditis: Inflammation of the pericardium that causes the sac to become thick or scared.
Other conditions that might trigger complications of Dressler’s syndrome include the following:
- Pleurisy: Inflammation of the membranes around the lungs
- Pleural effusion: A buildup of pleural fluid around the lungs
Although preventing Dressler’s syndrome is still being debated among medical professionals, the use of anti-inflammatory drugs after heart surgery can help reduce the incidence of Dressler’s syndrome.