What is pericarditis?

The heart is surrounded by a thin double-layered sac called the pericardium. Pericarditis is a swelling or irritation of that thin sac. It can be cause by an infection, heart attack or heart surgery.
Pericarditis can be acute, meaning it comes on suddenly or it can be chronic, meaning it develops over time.

The main symptom of pericarditis is sharp, stabbing chest pain that comes on suddenly. If you have sudden chest pain, call 911. You may be having a heart attack.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Heart palpitations – a feeling that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering or beating hard and fast.

Complications of pericarditis:

Cardiac tamponade – when too much fluid collects in the pericardium, it puts pressure on the heart. Blood is not able to flow properly and can cause a sharp drop in blood pressure.

Constrictive pericarditis – scar-like tissue forms around the heart in the sac and it becomes stiff. The heart is not able to move properly and does not function well. This is a rare complication.

How is pericarditis diagnosed?

If you are experiencing a combination of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor about your concerns. You may be referred to a cardiologist for testing to diagnose your issue. Tests may include:   

  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG)
  • Echocardiogram (abbreviated as "echo")
  • Cardiac CT
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

How is pericarditis treated?

Pericarditis can be mild and clear up on its own, but sometimes treatment is needed to prevent complications.

Rest and reduction in pain and inflammation are the first treatments for pericarditis. Your doctor may have you take an over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen.

The underlying cause will also need to be treated. You may be given an antibiotic for infection.

For more severe or chronic pericarditis, or complications from the condition, you may have a hospital stay so that cardiologists can monitor your recovery.

Complications like cardiac tamponade and chronic constrictive pericarditis need surgical treatment.

Heart Care at Guthrie

  • 14 Guthrie Cardiac and Vascular locations throughout the Finger Lakes and southern tier of New York and the northern tier of Pennsylvania means your cardiologist is close by. And, our team approach to care means wherever you are seen, cardiology specialists and primary care providers work together to create the best heart care plan for you.
  • We have the largest team in the region caring for heart patients including non-invasive and interventional cardiologists; cardiac, thoracic and vascular surgeons; advanced practice providers; nurses; therapists; and diagnostic technicians, all trained in specialized care for your heart.
  • Guthrie Heart and Vascular Center, located in Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, is a state-of-the-art space for heart and vascular surgeries and procedures. Located near the emergency department and ICU, there are private patient rooms, cardiac catheterization labs, and a hybrid operating room. The unit is centered around your quick efficient care.
  • Hybrid operating room – a state-of-the-art operating room with real-time, high-resolution digital imaging capabilities allowing for complex surgeries and studies to take place simultaneously with an integrated team of heart and valve specialists.

Guthrie heart surgeons are part of the largest cardiac care team in the northern Pa. and southern N.Y. Your heart is in good hands at Guthrie.

Guthrie interventional cardiology has advanced training in cardiac catheterization, performing ablation, stenting, angioplasty other structural heart procedures.

Our electrophysiology doctors and arrhythmia center teams help treat patients with arrhythmia issues like aFib using pacemakers or procedures like ablation.

Guthrie Cardiac and Vascular team treats patients with circulatory diseases: abdominal aortic aneurysm, carotid artery disease, and peripheral artery disease.