Uncover The Facts

PERICARDITIS IS AN INFLAMMATION OF THE PERICARDIUM

Healthy-Pericardium_labeled

The pericardium is a fluid-filled sac that wraps around the heart and expands and contracts as it beats.

Think of the pericardium as a water balloon that protects the heart by cushioning it from other organs in the chest, such as the lungs, the diaphragm (breathing muscle), and the trachea (windpipe).

Inflamed-Pericardium_labeled

When the pericardium is inflamed, it becomes thicker than usual. This causes the heart to rub against the pericardium, which causes chest pain.

This event is commonly described as an episode or flare.

The pain caused by pericarditis occurs near the heart, just left of the breastbone. In some cases this pain occurs suddenly, while in others it comes on more gradually. Either way, it can be a debilitating condition.

PERI-

means surrounding

CARDI(O)

means heart

-ITIS

means inflammation

So pericarditis occurs when the pericardium becomes inflamed (swollen) or irritated.

It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.

Anna, Living With Pericarditis

Symptoms

THE MOST COMMON SYMPTOM OF PERICARDITIS IS CHEST PAIN THAT FEELS WORSE WHEN BREATHING IN OR LYING DOWN

Pericarditis may make breathing painful. This pain often feels worse when a person lies down, but hurts less when sitting up or leaning forward.

In addition to chest pain, other symptoms of pericarditis include:

Back, neck, or shoulder pain

Back, neck, or shoulder pain

Cough

Cough

Shortness of breath when lying down

Shortness of breath when lying down

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations

Fever

Low-grade fever

Energy

Overall sense of weakness and fatigue

Anxiety

Anxiety

Swelling

Swelling in the abdomen, legs, or feet


 

If you experience chest pain of any kind and have not been diagnosed with pericarditis, you should seek immediate medical help.

 

understand pericaditis

I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t lie flat in the bed. And every time I took a deep breath, I felt like somebody was stabbing me with an ice pick.

Jill, Living With Pericarditis

Causes

OFTEN THE FIRST (ACUTE) EPISODE OF PERICARDITIS IS DUE TO AN UNKNOWN CAUSE.

 

THIS IS CALLED “IDIOPATHIC PERICARDITIS

 
Injured-cells_labeled

 

 

 

 

 

An acute episode of pericarditis may also happen for other reasons, including:

infection

Infection from a virus, bacteria, fungus, or parasite

Heart

Heart attack and heart procedures

INjury

Injury to the pericardium, such as from a car accident, radiation, or chemotherapy

Meds

Certain medications, such as blood thinners or those for seizures or irregular heart beat

Other disorders

Other illnesses, especially autoimmune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis

Myth Fact

Types

Not all types of pericarditis are the same

There are different categories of pericarditis, depending on the severity of symptoms and how long they last.

 

1x

Acute Pericarditis

This is the first pericarditis episode (or flare). It will often go away completely after treatment.

2x

Recurrent Pericarditis

Repeat pericarditis episodes during which symptoms last for a few days or weeks, go away for a period of time greater than 4 to 6 weeks, and then return again.

1xx

Chronic Pericarditis

A pericarditis episode that lasts for more than 3 months.

I saw a pulmonologist, a rheumatologist, everybody you can think of.

Vanessa, Living With Pericarditis

Diagnosis

How pericarditis is diagnosed

Physicians use specific methods to determine if you are experiencing an episode of pericarditis.

  • Rule out heart attack

    Your physician should perform tests, such as an EKG/ECG (electrocardiogram), to determine if you are having a heart attack. This test will help reveal any damage to the heart muscle. If the test does not reveal damage to the heart muscle, your physician should rule out a heart attack.

  • Evaluate medical history

    Your physician may ask about your medical history to evaluate your symptoms and confirm if you have pericarditis.

    They may ask questions about: 

    • Previous illnesses
    • Medical procedures you’ve had, if any
    • Other possible conditions you have, such as an autoimmune condition, including lupus or rheumatoid arthritis

    Most important, your physician may also ask if you have had a previous pericarditis episode and how long it has been since the last flare.

     

  • Listen to heart

    Your physician may listen to your heart for a special sound called a “pericardial rub”, which happens when the inflamed layers of the pericardium rub together.

  • Look at Heart

    Your physician may perform imaging tests designed to examine the physical condition of your heart. 

    • An x-ray may be used to check for enlargement of the heart and pericardium
    • An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce an image that shows how well your heart is working. The echocardiogram will also show if there is any extra fluid in the pericardium (called pericardial effusion)
    • A computed tomography (CT) scan provides a more detailed picture of the heart and pericardium, and can be used to rule out other conditions 
    • A cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test can be used instead of a CT scan. The MRI uses magnetic waves to take pictures of your heart and show if there is swelling (inflammation) in the pericardium
  • Take blood tests

    Your physician may obtain a blood sample to look for special markers that suggest inflammation, including:

    • C-reactive protein (CRP) 
    • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR—also called “sed rate”)

    Elevated levels in either test indicate underlying inflammation.

Living With Pericarditis

LEARN FROM PEOPLE LIVING WITH PERICARDITIS

Living with

Get to know individuals just like you who have experienced the fear and frustration of finding themselves the victim of pericarditis.


The discomfort and uncertainty that comes with the initial symptoms of pericarditis can be overwhelming. See how people like you describe their acute episodes and their paths to a recurrent pericarditis diagnosis.

They didn’t tell me much about pericarditis other than there was inflammation around my heart, and I had a sac with fluid in it.

Jill, Living With Pericarditis

Vanessa, 34

Her active life took an unexpected and unusual turn at an early age, causing her doctors to focus their diagnostic efforts on other areas besides Vanessa’s heart.

Watch her story
Vanessa
Dona

I did explain to them that I’m not depressed, the antidepressants aren’t making me feel any better, the pain is still there.

Vanessa, Living With Pericarditis

Jill, 50

Though the pain was different the second time around, Jill knew something was wrong and dreaded that there was a  chance pericarditis had returned.

Watch her story
Jill
Jill

Dona, 51

An unusual event sends a concerned Dona to the ER where she learns that she’s not having a stroke—she’s in cardiac tamponade.

Dona, 51

Dona’s Podcast Episode 1

Audio file
Resources

See more stories

Hear and see the full stories from others who have experienced the pain, frustration, and fallout from recurrent pericarditis.

See all stories

KEEP UP TO DATE ABOUT PERICARDITIS

Access the latest information about recurrent pericarditis community resources, news, and research, including information about services and programs that Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals offers or sponsors.