Acute pericarditis usually lasts less than a few weeks. Chronic pericarditis usually lasts six months or longer.
If you have acute pericarditis, the most common symptom is sharp, stabbing chest pain behind the breastbone or in the left side of your chest. However, some people with acute pericarditis describe their chest pain as dull, achy or pressure-like instead, and of varying intensity.
The pain of acute pericarditis may travel into your left shoulder and neck. It often intensifies when you lie down or inhale deeply. Coughing, taking a deep breath or swallowing food also may make the pain worse. Sitting up and leaning forward can often ease the pain. At times, it may be difficult to distinguish pericardial pain from the pain that occurs with a heart attack.
Chronic pericarditis is usually associated with chronic inflammation and may result in fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion). The most common symptom of chronic pericarditis is chest pain.
Depending on the type, signs and symptoms of pericarditis may include some or all of the following:
- Sharp, piercing chest pain over the center or left side of your chest
- Shortness of breath when reclining
- Low-grade fever
- An overall sense of weakness, fatigue or feeling sick
- Dry cough
- Abdominal or leg swelling
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical care if you develop new symptoms of chest pain.
Many of the symptoms of pericarditis are similar to those of other heart and lung conditions. The sooner you are evaluated, the sooner you can receive proper diagnosis and treatment. For example, although the cause of acute chest pain may be pericarditis, the original cause could be a heart attack or a blood clot of the lungs (pulmonary embolus).
Apr. 29, 2011
- Cohen S, et al. Pericarditis. In: Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2011: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2011. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/page.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05610-6..00025-1--sc30620&isbn=978-0-323-05610-6&type=bookPage§ionEid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05610-6..00025-1--sc30620&uniqId=234882123-3. Accessed Feb. 8, 2011.
- Pericarditis. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec07/ch078/ch078a.html. Accessed Feb. 8, 2011.
- Pericardium and Pericarditis. American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/print_presenter.jhtml?identifier=4683. Accessed Feb. 8, 2011.
- Imazio M. Evaluation and management of acute pericarditis. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Feb. 8, 2011.
- Grogan M (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 18, 2011.