Pericarditis is an inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the pericardium. This is the thin sac that surrounds the heart. In some cases, the inflammation may cause fluid to build up in the pericardium and restrict the heart’s action.
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The cause of pericarditis is often unknown. In children, the cause can sometimes be linked to:
A risk factor is something that increases your child’s chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for pericarditis include:
Chest pain is a common symptom, especially over the left side or center of the chest. It can spread to the neck and left shoulder. It is usually a sharp, stabbing pain. Deep breathing or lying down may worsen the pain. Sitting up may lessen it. Other symptoms may include:
Notify your child’s doctor if your child has these symptoms.
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. She will also do a physical exam. She will listen for a grating or rubbing sound in your child’s heart. If the condition is severe, there may be a crackle sound in your child’s lungs. The following tests may be done:
Treatment depends on the cause. In many cases, when the cause is unknown or viral pericarditis is suspected, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medicines are given. In other cases, corticosteroids may be given. If it is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics are used.
Fluid may need to be removed through pericardiocentesis if it is building up and affecting the heart’s pumping. In rare cases, surgery may be done.
The illness can range from mild to life-threatening. Acute inflammatory pericarditis usually improves with treatment within a few weeks or months. But, if it is caused by chronic inflammatory diseases, like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis , it may last longer or tend to recur.
If your child is diagnosed with pericarditis, follow the doctor's instructions.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Canadian Family Physician
American Heart Association. Pericardium and pericarditis. American Heart Association website. Available at http://www.americanheart.org . Accessed August 4, 2003.
Cincinnati Children's. Pericarditis. Cincinnati Children's website. Available at: http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/info/heart/diagnose/peri.htm . Updated June 2010. Accessed July 22, 2010.
Dr. Community Health Care Wausau Hospital. Pericarditis. Dr. Community Health Care Wausau Hospital website. Available at http://www.chclibrary.org/ . Accessed August 5, 2003.
Heart Center Online. Pericarditis. Heart Center Online website. Available at http://www.heartcenteronline.com . Accessed October 3, 2003.
Texas Heart Institute. Pericarditis. Texas Heart Institute website. Available at http://www.tmc.edu/thi/pericard.html . Accessed August 5, 2003.
Last reviewed June 2012 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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