honeypot link

Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

Quick Facts

Acute Pericarditis


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2019| Content last modified Oct 2019
Click here for the Professional Version
Get the full details

What is acute pericarditis?

"Peri" means all around, "cardiac" refers to your heart, and "itis" means inflammation. So, pericarditis is inflammation of the sac (pericardium) that surrounds your heart.  

The pericardium is made of 2 thin layers. The space between the layers has some fluid that helps the layers slide easily over one another.

"Acute" means new or sudden. Acute pericarditis is sudden, painful inflammation of the pericardium. Usually, it causes fluid to build up between the layers of the pericardium.

  • Infection, heart attack, and other health problems, such as lupus and cancer, cause acute pericarditis

  • You may have a fever and sharp chest pain, but some people don't have any symptoms

  • To tell if you have acute pericarditis, doctors will do echocardiography

  • To treat it, doctors will give you medicine to lessen pain and swelling, and they may have you stay in the hospital

What causes acute pericarditis?

Causes of acute pericarditis include:

What are the symptoms of acute pericarditis?

Symptoms of acute pericarditis include:

  • Fever

  • Sharp chest pain

The pain may go down your left shoulder and arm and get worse when laying down, swallowing food, coughing, or breathing sharply.

How can doctors tell if I have acute pericarditis?

To tell if you have acute pericarditis, doctors will do an exam to listen to your heart and do:

Doctors may do blood tests and take a sample of fluid or tissue from the pericardium to see what caused the pericarditis.

How do doctors treat acute pericarditis?

Doctors treat the cause of acute pericarditis. They also give you medicine to lessen your pain and swelling, such as:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine, such as aspirin

  • An opioid, such as morphine, for severe pain

  • A corticosteroid to lessen swelling

If medicine isn’t helping or a lot of fluid has built up, doctors may:

  • Have you stay in the hospital to monitor your progress

  • Do surgery to drain the fluid from your pericardium

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
No US brand name
NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
Others also read

Also of Interest