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A to Z: Pericarditis

Pericarditis (pair-ih-kar-DY-tis) is swelling and irritation of the sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium).

More to Know

The heart is surrounded by a thin sac called the pericardium that protects and supports the heart and helps it work properly. The pericardium is made of two layers of tissue with a small amount of fluid between them. This fluid keeps the layers from rubbing against each other and causing friction.

When someone has pericarditis, the layers of the pericardium swell and can rub against the heart. This can be caused by a viral infection or, less commonly, a bacterial or fungal infection. Heart attacks, injuries, heart surgery, radiation therapy, and certain medications can also cause pericarditis. In many cases, however, the cause is never identified. This is known as idiopathic pericarditis.

Pericarditis causes chest pain that typically comes on suddenly and may move to the neck, shoulders, back, or arms.

Treatment for pericarditis depends on the cause and usually involves medications to decrease pain, reduce swelling, and fight infections. In rare cases, if other treatments don't work and the person has repeated episodes of pericarditis, surgery may be done to remove part or all of the pericardium so the heart can function well.

Keep in Mind

Idiopathic pericarditis or pericarditis caused by a viral infection will usually clear up on its own within about 2 weeks. Most people with other types of pericarditis make a full recovery if the condition is diagnosed and treated right away.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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