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Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the membrane that surrounds the heart. The pericardium consists of two layers defining therein a cavity that is usually empty. Pericarditis is when this membrane becomes inflamed. The cavity can become filled with liquid, in which case we speak of pericarditis with effusion, as opposed to dry pericarditis. Pericarditis can occur in a rapid manner in the case of so-called acute pericarditis, or be much longer in duration: chronic pericarditis. Acute pericarditis may be caused by an infection, usually viral, or bacterial, appear in the context of the evolution of cancer, be a consequence of a stroke, a disease such as tuberculosis or occur without explanation, which is common: idiopathic pericarditis. Regarding chronic pericarditis, it may last more than three months, which causes problems for the proper activity of the heart, hence the name constrictive pericarditis.


In acute pericarditis, intense and sudden chest pain occurring at rest is usually present along with burning or tightness. These pains are typically increased when standing, when taking a deep breath and when coughing. They sometimes decrease in painfulness when the patient leans forward. In cases where the origin is infectious, fever is frequently present. Regarding chronic constrictive pericarditis, clinical signs are those of the effect it produces on the activity of the heart, often heart failure.


Signs of pericarditis can be detected from a simple clinical examination, particularly upon auscultation of the heart with a stethoscope. A very special friction noise can alert the doctor to carry out an electrocardiogram to search for more specific signs. A chest X-ray may be useful, but it is an echocardiography that will confirm the diagnosis of pericarditis, whether it is acute or chronic. In acute pericarditis, a blood test may help to suspect the cause.


Benign pericarditis of either viral or infectious origin will reverse its course on its own, mostly after several weeks of rest, combined with a treatment of anti-inflammatory drugs. Other more serious forms of pericarditis may require emergency surgery, particularly in cases of purulent pericarditis with effusion. If a cancer or other disease is the identified cause, treatment is essential.

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