The pericardium is two thin layers of tissue that surround the heart muscle. This covering holds the heart in place and helps it function. A small amount of fluid keeps the layers separate.

Pericarditis is a consequence of inflammation of this covering. The commonest presentation of this is chest pain.

Pericarditis can be caused by:

  • Infections – viral, bacterial, fungal.
  • In the weeks following a heart attack or heart surgery
  • Other medical (usually inflammatory) conditions

Pericarditis can be acute, meaning it happens suddenly and typically doesn’t last long. Or the condition may be “chronic,” meaning that it develops over time and may take longer to treat.

Serious complications of pericarditis are collection of fluid between the 2 sacs, called a pericardial effusion, which can place a significant strain on the heart if large enough. If the cause is an infection and also inflames the heart muscle (myocarditis), it can cause a disruption to heart’s normal rhythm and/ or cause heart failure. In rare cases, pericarditis can have very serious consequences, even leading to death.

Most of the time, pericarditis is mild and clears up on its own with rest or simple treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs. Sometimes, more intense treatment and longer treatment is required.