Pericarditis (Pericardial Tamponade)

An inflammation of the membranous sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium) is called pericarditis. A wide variety of conditions may cause pericarditis, but the most common cause is a viral infection. Other causes include bacteria, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and uremia. It may also occur as a complication of cancer of nearby organs, such as the esophagus or lungs.

The most common symptom of pericarditis is pain in the center of the chest, which may vary in intensity and usually worsen by movement of coughing. Other common symptoms include fever, breathlessness, coughing, and rapid pulse.

Treatment is usually directed at the underlying cause of the pericarditis. Painkillers are typically prescribed in the early stages of the disease. Antibiotics may be used when viral infection is the cause. Other forms of treatment may be used if complications develop.

Pericarditis may cause serious complications. The most serious complication is the accumulation of fluid in the pericardium (pericardial tamponade). This causes pressure on the heart and a rapid heart rate. Another form of pericarditis called constrictive pericarditis causes scarring and thickening of the pericardium. This condition may lead to progressive heart failure with progressive shortness of breath, enlargement of the liver, plus edema (accumulation of fluid) in body tissues and cavities.