Pericarditis - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Pericarditis is the inflammation of the pericardium- the two thin fibrous layers that surround the heart and protect it. In between the two layers, fluid is present, which prevents friction. Pericarditis mostly represents sharp chest pain. However, it may cause other symptoms too. It occurs when the two layers of the irritated and inflamed pericardium rub with each other. 


Generally, it goes away on its own. But sometimes, the healthcare provider may prescribe medications or advise surgery. Therefore, if you are diagnosed with pericarditis, you must follow the advice of your doctor to avoid complications. It can occur due to various reasons like bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. 


Pericarditis can be acute- means the onset is sudden, and it goes away on its own, in some months. Chronic pericarditis takes time to develop and continues for years. However, both types of pericarditis can affect the rhythm and functioning of your heart. But, seldom it leads to life-threatening conditions. 


 

Understanding the normal functioning and structure of the heart


Your heart is surrounded by a layer called pericardium- a two-layered fluid-filled sac that supports and protects your heart. The pericardium protects your heart from infections and malignancies. Moreover, it prevents your heart from expanding which occurs when blood volume is increased. Therefore keeping it functioning properly. On the inside, it has four chambers, the upper two atria. And the lower two ventricles, and two sides- the left side and the right side. The right side of the heart pumps blood to your lungs to receive oxygen, while the left side of your heart receives that blood from the lungs and pumps it to the whole body. The left side of the heart has oxygenated blood and the right side of the heart has deoxygenated blood. Your lungs receive oxygen-poor blood from the right side of the heart via the pulmonary artery. In the lungs, the blood receives oxygen and becomes oxygen-rich, and is then carried to the left side of your heart via the pulmonary vein.

 


Symptoms 


The main symptom of pericarditis is chest pain, which is sharp and stabbing due to the rubbing of the two layers of the pericardium. Moreover, it may become worse upon coughing, taking deep breaths, and swallowing. However, the pain may subside if you lean forward or sit straight. Also, it would be easier for you to breathe when you lean forward. 


Some other symptoms of pericarditis are; 


  • Anxiety 

  • Dry cough 

  • Pain in the back, left shoulder, or neck

  • Difficulty breathing while lying down 


Swelling in feet, ankles, or legs- a symptom of constrictive pericarditis. It is a condition when the pericardium becomes thick. Due to this, the heart can not expand. Hence it keeps working in the same way it should, eventually leading to compression of the heart. Therefore, blood backs up your lungs, legs, and abdomen, eventually causing swelling. 


Causes 


The causes of pericarditis are;


  • Heart attack or heart surgery

  • Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections 

  • Inflammatory conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis

  • Direct trauma to the chest like a motor vehicle accident or any other accident that hits on the chest.

  • Health conditions like kidney failure, AIDS, malignancies, and tuberculosis.



Complications 


Pericarditis, if left untreated, can lead to various complications that can affect your life. Some of them are as follows.


Pericardial effusion- a build-up of fluid around the heart. If it is too much, it can exert pressure on your heart, affecting its pumping ability. 


Chronic constrictive pericarditis- due to long-term pericarditis, scarring of pericardium occurs and it becomes thick. Due to this, the heart can not expand. Hence, it keeps working in the same way it should, eventually leading to compression of the heart. Therefore, blood backs up your lungs, legs, and abdomen. 


Cardiac tamponade- pericardial effusion, which starts to affect the functioning and pumping ability of the heart. 



Conclusion 


Pericarditis is the inflammation of the pericardium- the two thin fibrous layers that surround the heart and protect it. In between the two layers, fluid is present, which prevents friction. The common symptom of it is chest pain. Therefore, if you have the same complaint, do not take it lightly. You must visit the healthcare provider soon.


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