Pericarditis is characterized by a sharp, stab-like chest pain that arises abruptly. It often arises in the middle or left side of the chest and might be accompanied by pain in one or both shoulders.
If the individual sits up and leans forward, it helps ease the pain while lying down and deep breathing worsens the pain. Some individuals describe the pain as pressure or dull ache in the chest.
Other indications of pericarditis
Fever is also another indication of the acute form of pericarditis. This can be accompanied by difficulty breathing, weakness, palpitations and coughing.
When it comes to the chronic form, it often triggers shortness of breath, tiredness and coughing. The chest pain is usually absent. In severe cases of the chronic form, it can lead to swelling in the legs and stomach as well as hypotension (low blood pressure).
What are the possible complications?
The 2 serious complications of pericarditis include:
- Cardiac tamponade – occurs if there is excess fluid that builds up in the sac which places pressure on the heart. This prevents the heart from properly filling with blood, thus reduced amount of blood leaves the heart which results to a drastic drop in the blood pressure. If not correctly treated, this can be deadly.
- Chronic constrictive pericarditis – this is rare ailment that takes time to develop which results to the formation of scar-like tissue in the sac around the heart. Once the sac turns rigid and unable to properly move, the scarred tissue compresses the heart and prevents it from functioning normally.
Management of pericarditis
The objectives in managing pericarditis include:
- Lowering the inflammation and pain
- Treating the underlying cause if known
- Assessing for any complications
Specific forms of treatment
Initially, the doctor might recommend adequate rest until the individual feels better and the fever has settled. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are given to minimize the pain and inflammation such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
Stronger medications might be given if the pain is intense. The doctor might prescribe colchicine and prednisone which is a steroid.
In case an infection is responsible for causing pericarditis, the doctor might prescribe an antibiotic or other medication. The individual might be required to remain in a healthcare facility during treatment to monitor for any complications. The indications of the acute form can last for a few days up to 3 weeks while the chronic form can last for several months.