Pericarditis is the swelling or inflammation that occurs in the pericardium. Pericardium is the lining membrane that is found surrounding the human heart. This inflammation causes mild to severe chest pain and pericardial effusion (fluid accumulation in the heart). The pericardial effusion is the process by which the extension of pericardium occurs to accommodate the excess fluid.
People at Risk
Pericarditis is a common heart condition that is found all over the world. It has been reported that almost 5% of overall admissions that occur due to accidents and emergency (A&E) are identified with pericarditis.
As it is a common condition, both men and women are victims. But compared to women, men are more likely to get affected with pericarditis. Young men in the adult category are more likely to be affected than older people and, in general, men between 20 and 40 years of age are more visible victims of the condition.
Additionally, about 20–30% of people who undergo treatment for pericarditis have the chance of developing the condition again, among which a minimum number have a tendency to land up in a chronic pericarditis stage.
Who Gets Affected?
As pericarditis is a common condition, it does not necessarily have specific causes. Infection plays a vital role in causing pericarditis. People who are prone to some viral, bacterial, or fungal infection have a huge chance of having pericarditis. Other people who develop this condition might have experienced the following situations:
- Heart attack: People who had heart attacks have a high chance of developing pericarditis. This kind of pericarditis falls under two categories—early pericarditis and late pericarditis.
Early pericarditis is the condition that occurs in just one to four days after a person suffers a heart attack. In this case, the swelling or inflammation is considered to develop to clean up the disease tissue that arose in the heart. In contrast, late pericarditis is known to develop after a few weeks or months after a heart attack. It occurs when the heart tissue is unintentionally attacked by the immune system.
Late pericarditis is known by several names such as the Dressler syndrome or postcardiotomy pericarditis or the post-cardiac injury syndrome.
- Heart surgery: It has not been proved that all people who have a heart surgery develop pericarditis, but there are reports that some people who had surgeries developed this condition at a later stage in their lives.
- Kidney failure: People who have end-stage renal disease (ESRD) are prone to develop pericarditis. There are chances for them to develop even chronic constrictive pericarditis. The two forms of pericarditis that occur as a result of renal failure are as follows:
- Uremic pericarditis is the result of swelling of the visceral membrane that occurs in the pericardial sac. The systemic immune disorders such as scleroderma and lupus erythematosus are considered to be the cause of this pericarditis.
- Pericarditis that is related to dialysis: This category of pericarditis is eventually observed in patients during dialysis (peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis). Inadequate dialysis and excess of fluids are determined as the factors that contribute to the cause of this pericarditis.
- Cancer: The extension of cancer cells to the neighboring structures can affect the pericardium and cause pericarditis. The cancer cells can also be carried through the bloodstream by the hematogenous method. The other cancers that cause pericarditis are breast cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Tuberculosis: Pericardial tuberculosis occurs as a complication of tuberculosis. It is difficult to diagnose this pericarditis and is often left unnoticed during the diagnosis of TB, but this has the capability to result in constrictive pericarditis.
Common Risk Factors
People under the following categories are said to be under the risk of pericarditis.
- A person who has rapid and heavy breathing.
- A person who suffers from breathlessness.
- A person who frequently suffers from dry cough.
- A person who has abnormality in his/her body temperature or falls sick often.
- A person whose blood vessels are broken in the mucous membrane lining the lungs and the eyes.
- A person who has immunity disorders.
- A person found with AIDS or HIV.
- A person who has undergone radiation therapy on the chest.
- A person who has rheumatic fever or has had rheumatic fever in the past.
- A person who has hypothyroidism or under-active thyroid glands.
In common cases, pericarditis is more likely to be mild and vanishes within days. When it occurs frequently and is left untreated, it can lead to chronic pericarditis or other serious problems that can affect the functioning of the heart. Usually, it takes about a week to recover from pericarditis; however, for complete recovery, patients are advised to take complete rest and continue follow-up treatment. These methods help patients reduce the risk of acquiring the condition again.