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Pericarditis is the inflammation of the pericardium, which is the thin saclike membrane surrounding the heart that holds it in place. Other names for pericarditis depending on the type include: idiopathic pericarditis (no known cause), acute pericarditis, chronic pericarditis, chronic effusive pericarditis and chronic constrictive pericarditis, and recurrent pericarditis. Generally, pericarditis affects people of all ages, but men 20 to 50 years old are more likely to develop it than others. Pericarditis is usually caused by unknown sources, but viral infections are a common cause. This disease often occurs after an upper respiratory infection. Another possible cause of pericarditis is an autoimmune response from disorders such as lupus, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Common symptoms of acute pericarditis is a sharp chest pain., fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing and palpitations, which are feelings that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, or beating too hard or too fast. Chronic pericarditis usually results in tiredness, coughing and shortness of breath, and chest pain is rare or nonexistent. If it is a severe case of chronic pericarditis, the stomach and legs may experience swelling. Hypotension, or low blood pressure, may also occur. Usual tests that are used to diagnose other heart infections are run to detect pericarditis. An EKG, electrocardiogram, is used to record the electrical activity of the heart and certain EKG results can suggest pericarditis. A chest X-ray can show whether you have an enlarged heart, which can be a sign of excess fluid in your pericardium. An echocardiography uses sound waves to generate pictures of your heart, showing its size and shape and how well it’s working. It can show whether fluid has built up in the pericardium. Cardiac CT, or computed tomography, helps to rule out other causes of chest pain and narrow down the possibilities of other infections. A cardiac MRI can show changes in the pericardium. Blood tests can also be run to see the extent of inflammation in the pericardium. Prognosis for pericarditis that is immediately treated is good. Life expectancy is normal, as pericarditis itself is not specifically fatal.
Recovery time is generally 2 weeks to 3 months. However, pericarditis is prone to returning. This type of pericarditis is referred to as recurrent, or chronic, if symptoms or episodes continue to manifest. Because pericarditis is sometimes caused by viral infections, there is no cure but to just rest and let it take its course. However, there are several treatment options for the pain associated with pericarditis including prescription and over the counter medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Drugs such as colchicine reduce inflammation in the body that occur as a result of pericarditis. If the symptoms do not go away, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroids. If a bacterial infection is the cause, then antibiotics and possible drainage is the treatment. Pericarditis can result in two serious complications: cardiac tamponade and chronic constrictive pericarditis.
Cardiac tamponade happens when the sac fills up with too much fluid, putting pressure on the heart and keeping it from filling up with blood properly. Less blood leaves the heart, and the result is a dramatic drop in blood pressure that can be fatal. If left untreated, cardiac tamponade can be fatal. The other serious complication of pericarditis is chronic constrictive pericarditis. This is a rare, progressive disease that leads to scar-like tissue forming throughout the pericardium. The pericardium becomes stiff and unable to move properly, and the scarred tissue starts to compress the heart and prevent it from functioning properly.
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