What is pericarditis?

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the sac-like tissue layer that surrounds the heart. It can cause chest pain that is often sudden and short-lived.

When the pericardium is inflamed, it produces fluid. A large amount of fluid can compress the heart, limiting its ability to fill normally with blood. This can cause tachycardia (rapid pulse rate) and hypotension (reduced blood pressure) and chest pain.

What are the symptoms of pericarditis?

Typical symptoms associated with pericarditis include fever and chest pain. The chest pain is often more severe when lying down and is less severe when sitting up and leaning forward.

What are the causes of pericarditis?

There are multiple causes for pericarditis including:

  • infections, including viral, bacterial (such as tuberculosis), fungal and protozoal
  • postpericardiotomy syndrome (Dressler’s syndrome), which occurs in a small number of patients after heart surgery
  • rheumatologic diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and rheumatic fever
  • Kawasaki disease
  • medications that can cause inflammation, such as hydralzaine and procainamide
  • kidney failure
  • high-dose radiation associated with treatment of certain cancers, such as Hodgkin lymphoma

How we care for pericarditis

At Boston Children’s Hospital, our clinicians in the Heart Center are experienced in diagnosing and treating all types of heart problems, including pericarditis.