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What is pericarditis? — Pericarditis is a condition that causes irritation of the tissue around the heart. This tissue (called the pericardium) forms a sac that protects the heart and keeps it from rubbing against nearby organs (figure 1).
What are the symptoms of pericarditis? — Symptoms of pericarditis can include:
Chest pain is the most common symptom of pericarditis. It can be a sharp pain or a dull ache. You might feel pain in the front of your chest, your shoulder, or your upper back.
If you have sharp chest pain, it might get worse when you take a deep breath. If the pain is a dull ache, it might get better when you sit up and lean forward.
Is there a test for pericarditis? — Yes. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do 1 or more of these tests:
●Electrocardiogram ("ECG") – This test measures the electrical activity in your heart (figure 2).
●Echocardiogram – This test uses sound waves to create an image of your heart as it beats (figure 3).
●Chest X-ray – An X-ray can show if there is a large amount of fluid around your heart.
●Blood tests – These measure the levels of certain proteins in your blood, which tell doctors about the health of your heart. Certain proteins go up in response to pericarditis. Doctors can measure the levels of these proteins to check for pericarditis and to see if the condition is improving.
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. See your doctor or nurse right away if:
●You have chest pain.
●You feel short of breath, weak, or faint.
●You have swelling in your legs or other parts of the body.
If you think that you might be having a heart attack, call for an ambulance right away (in the US and Canada, call 9-1-1). Do not try to get to the hospital on your own.
How is pericarditis treated? — The main treatments for pericarditis are:
●A medicine called colchicine (brand name: Colcrys)
If the above treatments do not help, or if your symptoms come back, your doctor might try other treatments. They might switch you to different medicines. Sometimes, if medicines do not work, doctors might suggest surgery to remove swollen, irritated tissue from around the heart.
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