Conditions & Treatments

Pericarditis

Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin sac (membrane) that surrounds the heart.

Pericarditis

What is pericarditis?

View of the heart and pericardium
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Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin sac (membrane) that surrounds the heart. There is a small amount of fluid between the inner and outer layers of the pericardium. Often, when the pericardium becomes inflamed, the amount of fluid between its two layers increases. This is called a pericardial effusion. If the amount of fluid increases quickly, the effusion can impair the ability of the heart to function properly. This complication of pericarditis is called cardiac tamponade and is a serious emergency.

What are the symptoms of pericarditis?

The following are the most common indicators of pericarditis. However, individuals may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain that:

    • Can especially be felt behind the breastbone, sometimes felt beneath the clavicle (collarbone), neck, and left shoulder.

    • Is a sharp, piercing pain over the center or left side of the chest that increases if the person takes a deep breath and usually decreases if the person sits up or leans forward.

  • Fever

  • Pain when swallowing

  • Palpitations (irregular heart beats)

The symptoms of pericarditis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.

What causes pericarditis?

Usually, the cause of pericarditis is unknown, but may include any or all of the following:

  • Infection (viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic)

  • Autoimmune disorders (i.e., systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma)

  • Inflammation after a heart attack

  • Chest trauma or injury

  • Cancer, tuberculosis, or kidney failure  

  • Medical therapies (certain medications, radiation therapy) 

  • Heart surgery

Treatment for pericarditis

Your health care provider will determine your specific treatment, based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Severity of the disease

  • Cause of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment for pericarditis is to determine and eliminate the cause of the disease. Treatment may include:

  • Medication (i.e., analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or antibiotics)

  • Aspiration or removal of excess fluid

  • Surgery

Pericarditis may last from two to six weeks, and there may be a recurrence of the disorder.

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Heart Center

  • Cardio-Oncology Program
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Cardio-Oncology Program provides care at the intersection between heart and vascular disease, and cancer. The program focuses on improving the health of cancer patients and cancer survivors by providing comprehensive cardiac and vascular care.
  • Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program
    The Elizabeth Anne and Karen Barlow Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center cares for women of all ages through prevention and early detection of heart disease.
Imaging

  • Heart Imaging
    The Heart Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging provides comprehensive diagnostic cardiac imaging, using state-of-the-art CT and MRI technology and with expert interpretation by specialty-trained cardiovascular radiologists.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

Innovative care at the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center

Learn more about the latest treatment options for this condition at the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center.