Glossary

 

LEARN THE LANGUAGE

We’ve compiled a glossary of terms that will help you talk about pericarditis with your doctor. You may want to review it before your visit so both you and your doctor can have a clear, effective, and productive conversation.

 

Term 

Definition

Active flare

The time when a person is actively experiencing the signs and symptoms of pericarditis, including chest pain that feels worse when breathing in or lying down. 

Acute pericarditis

The first short-term pericarditis episode that will often go away completely after treatment.

Autoinflammation

“Auto” means both self and automatic. “Inflammation” is the painful swelling that happens as the body’s natural response to injury or infection. Combining these words, “autoinflammation” occurs when inflammation happens automatically or continuously because of a process within the body (not an external cause such as a virus or injury).

Blood test

A common test where a sample of your blood is examined for special markers including C-reactive protein (CRP) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR—also called “sed rate”).

Cardiac tamponade 

A risk of pericarditis defined as a fluid-filled pericardium that affects the proper function of the heart. When pericardial effusion worsens (too much fluid builds up or it builds up too quickly), people can experience cardiac tamponade. This can be serious and life threatening. 

Cardiologist 

A doctor who specializes in the treatment of heart diseases such as pericarditis. 

 

Chronic pericarditis

A pericarditis episode that lasts for more than 3 months.

Clinical trial 

Voluntary research studies designed to determine the safety and effectiveness of different medicines. The clinical trial results are submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval. Some patients with pericarditis are involved in the clinical trials of new treatment options. 

Colchicine

A common medicine used for recurrent (repeat) pericarditis. Colchicine works to relieve inflammation in a different way than NSAIDs. Side effects may include upset stomach and diarrhea.

Computed tomography (CT) scan

This test can take detailed pictures of the heart. A cardiac CT is used to rule out other causes of chest pain. It is also used to check for calcification in patients with constrictive pericarditis.

Constrictive (or restrictive) pericarditis 

A rare risk of pericarditis when the swelling (inflammation) causes the pericardial sac to become scarred and stiff, limiting the heart’s pumping action. This can occur in someone during the first (acute) pericarditis episode or after recurrent (repeat) pericarditis episodes.

Corticosteroids (also known as steroids) 

Powerful medicines that quickly reduce inflammation (and the pain it can cause). However, they can cause serious side effects, including mood changes, mental health issues, fatty deposits in the face, and osteoporosis (brittle bones). 

C-reactive protein (CRP)

This is a protein made by your liver in response to inflammation. The CRP blood test is used to help confirm a diagnosis of pericarditis.

Diagnostic test 

A medical exam that provides the information physicians need to make a clinical decision, or a diagnosis. 

Dressler syndrome

A cause of pericarditis defined as an immune system response to injury to the pericardium after heart attack, surgery, or traumatic injury. 

Dull chest pain 

A common sign of pericarditis defined as a dull ache or pressure behind the breastbone or in the left side of your chest. It may feel like a vise that is squeezing the heart. In pericarditis, the dull chest pain becomes worse when breathing in or lying down.

Echocardiogram 

An imaging test of the heart that uses sound waves to produce an image that shows how well your heart is working. It will also show if there is extra fluid in the pericardium. 

Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) 

A common test where electrodes are placed on the chest to check the rhythm of your heart. It can detect specific rhythm changes that can occur during pericarditis. This test also helps to rule out cardiovascular conditions such as a heart attack. 

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
(ESR or “sed rate”)  

A blood test that uses certain red blood cells (erythrocytes) to measure inflammation in the body.

FDA

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a federal agency that, among other things, is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices. The FDA reviews the results of clinical trials and approves different medicines for different conditions.      

FDA-approved treatment

A product that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a condition or disease. 

Heart attack

An entirely different medical condition than pericarditis that happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked. The chest pain that people experience during pericarditis can be severe. Sometimes people mistakenly believe they are having a heart attack. 

Heart palpitations

A possible sign of pericarditis defined by a sensation that the heart is racing or skipping a beat.

Idiopathic cause 

Often pericarditis is due to an unknown cause. In such cases, the condition is called “idiopathic pericarditis.”

Intensified pain 

A common sign of pericarditis defined as pain that becomes worse when you cough, lie down, or inhale deeply; pain that becomes better when you sit up or lean forward. 

Low-grade fever 

A possible effect of pericarditis and inflammation in the body defined by a slightly higher than normal body temperature.  

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An imaging test of the heart that uses magnetic waves to take in-depth pictures of your heart and reveal if there is swelling or inflammation in the pericardium. An MRI is considered the most accurate and detailed imaging test.

Myocarditis 

A different type of heart inflammation than pericarditis. Myocarditis is defined as inflammation of the myocardium (the main heart muscle), whereas pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium (the outside layer, or sac) of the heart. 

NSAIDs

(pronounced: en-saids)

A common medicine for the first (acute) pericarditis episode and recurrent (repeat) pericarditis. The acronym stands for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. 

  • Nonsteroidal means it is not a steroid (also called a corticosteroid) 
  • Anti-inflammatory means it reduces the swelling and inflammation to relieve pain 

Pericardial effusion 

A risk of pericarditis defined as an abnormal level of fluid in the sac surrounding the heart. 

Pericardial rub

A special sound that happens when the inflamed layers of the pericardium rub together.

Pericardiectomy

A surgical procedure during which the pericardium is partially or completely removed. The surgery can have serious risks. So it is considered a “last option” that doctors work with patients to avoid.

Pericardiocentesis

A medical procedure during which fluid is removed from the pericardium with a needle or tube.

Pericardiotomy 

A medical procedure during which fluid is removed by the creation of a small window in the pericardium.

Pericarditis

Inflammation (swelling and irritation) of the pericardium. There are different types of pericarditis, defined by the severity of symptoms and how long each episode lasts. 

Pericardium

The protective sac that wraps around your heart. It contains 2 layers with fluid in between. 

Recurrent pericarditis

Repeat pericarditis flares during which symptoms last for a few days, go away for 4 to 6 weeks or longer, and then return again. 

Rheumatologist 

A doctor who specializes in the treatment of autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and has a special understanding of autoinflammation.

Sharp chest pain

The main sign of pericarditis defined as stabbing or piercing pain behind the breastbone or in the left side of your chest. In pericarditis, the sharp chest pain becomes worse when breathing in or lying down. 

Shortness of breath

A common sign of pericarditis defined by trouble breathing or coughing while breathing during an active flare. 

Steroid tapering (also known as steroid weaning) 

The process of gradually reducing the dose of steroids to help prevent recurrent (repeat) pericarditis. 

Trauma

A cause of pericarditis, this is defined as injury to the heart or chest that may occur as a result of a car accident or other mishap. 

Traveling pain 

A common sign of pericarditis defined as pain that moves from the chest into the left shoulder and neck. 

X-ray

A test that shows images of certain structures in the body. It can be used to check for an enlarged heart (which can indicate fluid in the pericardium).

 

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