Acute pericarditis usually lasts less than a few weeks. Chronic recurrent pericarditis has two types, including the incessant type which occurs within six weeks of weaning medical treatment for an acute episode, and the intermittent type which occurs after six weeks.
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 cough, lie down or inhale deeply. 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 the chest
- Shortness of breath when reclining
- Heart palpitations
- Low-grade fever
- An overall sense of weakness, fatigue or feeling sick
- 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 have been a heart attack or a blood clot of the lungs (pulmonary embolus).
Apr. 06, 2014
- Shammas NW, et al. Pericarditis, myocarditis, and other cardiomyopathies. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2013;40:213.
- What is pericarditis? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/peri/. Accessed Dec. 19, 2013.
- What is pericarditis? American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/What-is-Pericarditis_UCM_444931_Article.jsp#. Accessed Dec. 19, 2013.
- Imazio M. Clinical presentation and diagnostic evaluation of acute pericarditis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 19, 2013.
- Acute coronary syndromes. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. Accessed Dec. 19, 2013.
- Crawford MH, ed. Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Cardiology. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.; The McGraw Hill Companies: 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=8. Accessed Dec. 19, 2013.
- Imazio M. Treatment of acute pericarditis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 19, 2013.
- Lilly LS. Treatment of acute and recurrent idiopathic pericarditis. Circulation. 2013;127:1723.
- Imazio M, et al. A randomized trial of colchicines for acute pericarditis. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;369:1522.
- Khandaker MH, et al. Pericardial disease: Diagnosis and management. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2010;85:572.