What is Pericarditis?

The pericardium is a thin, sac-like covering (a membrane) that surrounds the heart. The outer layer of the pericardium surrounds the roots of the heart’s major blood vessels. Ligaments attach this layer to their spinal column, diaphragm, and other parts of the body. The inner layer of the pericardium is attached to the heart muscle. A coating of fluid separates the two layers of membrane, letting the heart move as it beats, yet still be attached to the body.

Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium. When Pericarditis occurs the amount of fluid between the two layers of the pericardium increases. This increased fluid presses on the heart and restricts its pumping action.

What are the symptoms? The main symptom of Pericarditis is a sharp, stabbing pain in the center or the left side of the chest. (In some cases, the pain may be dull.) The pain may spread to the neck or left shoulder and can worsen when you take a deep breath. The pain is usually lessened if you are sitting up or leaning forward and can worsen when you lie down. Other symptoms may include fever, cough, pain when swallowing, trouble breathing or overall feeling of sickness.

Pericarditis occurs most often in men between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. In most cases, the cause of Pericarditis is unknown

Pericarditis can occur from:

• A viral, bacterial, or fungal infection.
• A heart attack.
• Cancer that has spread from a nearby tumor.
• Radiation treatment for some types of cancer.
• Injury to the chest, esophagus (food pipe), or heart.
• Use of certain kinds of medicines to suppress your immune system.

Pericarditis can also occur in patients who have rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, kidney failure, leukemia, HIV, or AIDS.

For any chest pain, it may be wise to consult a doctor.

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