Pericarditis is an infection of the pericardium, a two-layered membrane around the heart.
The pericardium is two-layered membrane around the heart. In this condition, this membrane is infected. Most frequently, this infection is acute, with symptoms that can be easily confused with symptoms of a heart attack. The inflammation may start to reduce after a week. In rare cases, it can last longer, in which case there are scars on the pericardium, which is getting thicker, pressing the heart. When constricted this way, the heart is not able to receive blood sufficiently and consequently, pump properly. This serious and long-lasting condition is known as constrictive pericarditis. In acute or long-lasting form of this condition, there can be accumulation of fluids between the two layers of the pericardium (pericardium stroke), which may further cause acute or chronic heart failure.
The symptoms of acute pericardium show in a few hours and last for approximately 7 days. These are:
- pain in the middle of the chest, which is getting worse when inhaling, and better when leaning forward while sitting
- neck pains
In case of chronic pericarditis or when fluids accumulate in the membrane, the heart does not fill properly with blood, which causes poor circulation. This can produce other symptoms, appearing in monthly intervals, like shortness of breath, swollen joints or swellings of the abdomen. Arrhythmia is also a possible symptom.
The cause of pericarditis in young persons is usually a viral infection, although it may develop as a complication from bacterial pneumonia. In some countries, tuberculosis is the cause of pericarditis. Other causes are:
- Heart attack, when the muscle in the surface is affected by the attack
- Tumour spreading from other organs to the pericardium
- Autoimmune disease – rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosis
The complications of pericarditis can be:
- constrictive pericarditis – when the membrane is thickened from long-term inflammation and constricts the heart
- cardiac tamponade – when fluids accumulate in the pericardium, so the heart doesn’t fill properly, in turn it pumps out less blood, which can cause a serious blood pressure drop; it can lead to death if untreated