Pericarditis is the inflammation of the two layers of the sac-like membrane around the heart, called the pericardium. 

Causes include complications from viral infections, such as adenovirus, polio, influenza, and rubella; bacterial infections; and fungal infections, which all lead to acute pericarditis. 

Heart attacks, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, cancer, and kidney failure are also associated with pericarditis. Risk factors generally include men between the ages of 20 and 50 with upper respiratory infections.

Pericarditis Symptoms

Symptoms of pericarditis include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain that can extend to the neck, shoulder, back, or abdomen (usually relieved when sitting)
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing

Pericarditis Diagnosis

Your UT Southwestern Medical Center doctor may perform several tests to diagnose pericarditis. Common diagnostic tests include:

  • Cardiac catheterization – to see heart vasculature and valves
  • Chest X-ray – to see a shadow around the heart that looks like a water bottle
  • Complete blood count
  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) and echocardiogram – to distinguish from heart attacks by using specific cardiac markers
  • MRI – to check for evidence of inflammation around the heart
  • Stethoscope – to hear sounds of “friction rub” between the two layers of the pericardium, muffled or distant sounds; to hear lower breath sounds indicating pleural effusion

Treatment Options for Pericarditis

Aspirin or ibuprofen
To reduce inflammation, corticosteroids, and analgesics to relieve pain
To reduce fluid accumulation
In the event of chronic pericarditis
Drawing fluid from the heart with a needle when cardiac tamponade is present

Complications from Pericarditis

Pericarditis can cause complications, including:

  • Arrhythmias, or irregular heart rhythms
  • Cardiac tamponade
  • Constrictive pericarditis

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a pericarditis expert at UT Southwestern's facilities in Dallas or for more information about our services, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.