Under normal circumstances, the two-layered pericardial sac that surrounds your heart contains a small amount of lubricating fluid. In pericarditis, the sac becomes inflamed and the resulting friction from the inflamed sac leads to chest pain.

The cause of pericarditis is often hard to determine. In most cases, doctors either are unable to determine a cause (idiopathic) or suspect a viral infection.

Pericarditis can also develop shortly after a major heart attack, due to the irritation of the underlying damaged heart muscle. In addition, a delayed form of pericarditis may occur weeks after a heart attack or heart surgery. This delayed pericarditis is known as Dressler's syndrome. Many experts believe Dressler's syndrome is due to a mistaken inflammatory response by the body to its own tissues (autoimmune response) — in this case, the heart and pericardium.

Other causes of pericarditis include:

  • Systemic inflammatory disorders. These may include lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Trauma. Injury to your heart or chest may occur as a result of a motor vehicle or other accident.
  • Other health disorders. These may include kidney failure, AIDS, tuberculosis and cancer.
  • Certain medications. Some medications can cause pericarditis, although this is unusual.
Apr. 06, 2014