Pericarditis - after heart attack
Pericarditis is inflammation and swelling of the covering of the heart (pericardium). The condition can occur in the days or weeks following a heart attack.
See also: Bacterial pericarditis
Dressler syndrome; Post-MI pericarditis; Post-cardiac injury syndrome; Postcardiotomy pericarditis
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Two types of pericarditis can occur after a heart attack.
The first type of pericarditis most often occurs within 2 to 5 days after a heart attack. When the body tries to clean up the diseased heart tissue, swelling and inflammation occur.
The second type of pericarditis is also called Dressler's syndrome (or post-cardiac injury syndrome or postcardiotomy pericarditis). It occurs several weeks or months after a heart attack, heart surgery, or other trauma to the heart. Dressler's syndrome is believed to be caused by the immune system attacking the area.
Pain occurs when the pericardium becomes inflamed (swollen) and rubs on the heart.
You have a higher risk of pericarditis if you have had a previous heart attack, open heart surgery, or chest trauma, or if your heat attack affected the thickness of your heart muscle.
- Chest pain
- May come and go (recur)
- Pain may be sharp and stabbing (pleuritic) or tight and crushing (ischemic)
- Pain may get worse when breathing and may go away when you stand or sit up
- Pain moves to the neck, shoulder, back, or abdomen
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry cough
- Fast heart rate (tachycardia)
- Fever (more common with the second type of pericarditis)
- Malaise (general ill feeling)
- Splinting of ribs (bending over or holding the chest) with deep breathing
Signs and tests
The health care provider will use a stethoscope to listen to your heart and lungs. There may be a rubbing sound (called a pericardial friction rub, not to be confused with a heart murmur). Heart sounds in general may be weak or sound far away.
A buildup of fluid in the covering of the heart or space around the lungs (pericardial effusion) is not common after a heart attack. But, it often does occur in some patients with Dressler's syndrome.
Tests may include:
The goal of treatment is to make the heart work better and reduce pain and other symptoms.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) or aspirin may be used to treat inflammation of the pericardium. Usually aspirin, even in high doses, is preferred in early post-MI pericarditis. In extreme cases, when other medicines don't work, steroids or colchicine may be used.
In some cases, excess fluid surrounding the heart (pericardial effusion) may need to be removed. This is done with a procedure called pericardiocentesis. If complications develop, part of the pericardium may need to be removed with surgery (pericardiectomy).
The condition may come back, even in people who receive treatment. In some cases, untreated pericarditis can be life threatening.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if:
- You develop symptoms of pericarditis after a heart attack
- You have been diagnosed with pericarditis and symptoms continue or come back, despite treatment
Anderson JL. ST segment elevation acute myocardial infarction and complications of myocardial infarction. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 72.
Manning WJ. Pericardial disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 77.
LeWinter MM. Pericardial disease. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 70.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, Unviersity of Washington School of Medicine; and Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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