Pericarditis is swelling and irritation of the thin, saclike tissue surrounding the heart (pericardium). Pericarditis often causes sharp chest pain. The chest pain occurs when the irritated layers of the pericardium rub against each other.
Pericarditis is usually mild and goes away without treatment. Treatment for more-severe cases may include medications and, rarely, surgery. Early diagnosis and treatment may help reduce the risk of long-term complications from pericarditis.
Chest pain is the most common symptom of pericarditis. It usually feels sharp or stabbing. However, some people have dull, achy or pressure-like chest pain.
Pericarditis pain usually occurs behind the breastbone or on the left side of the chest. The pain may:
- Spread to the left shoulder and neck
- Get worse when coughing, lying down or taking a deep breath
- Get better when sitting up or leaning forward
Other signs and symptoms of pericarditis may include:
- Fatigue or general feeling of weakness or being sick
- Leg swelling
- Low-grade fever
- Pounding or racing heartbeat (heart palpitations)
- Shortness of breath when lying down
- Swelling of the belly (abdomen)
The specific symptoms depend on the type of pericarditis. Pericarditis is grouped into different categories, according to the pattern of symptoms and how long symptoms last.
- Acute pericarditis begins suddenly but doesn’t last longer than three weeks. Future episodes can occur. It may be difficult to tell the difference between acute pericarditis and pain due to a heart attack.
- Recurrent pericarditis occurs about four to six weeks after an episode of acute pericarditis with no symptoms in between.
- Incessant pericarditis lasts about four to six weeks but less than three months. The symptoms are continuous.
- Chronic constrictive pericarditis usually develops slowly and lasts longer than three months.