Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the space around the heart. It may or may not also present with chest pain. It can have several causes including infection and a prior heart attack. However, it can also be ideopathic. It more commonly occurs as an acute condition, but can appear as a chronic condition.
Pericarditis usually presents with chest pain in a particular region that does not correspond to angina. It may also present with a dry cough, fever, fatigue and anxiety. Care must be taken to differentiate it from a myocardial infarction as the symptoms are similar. However, pericarditis usually presents with sharp pain, while an infarction presents with crushing pain. In addition, the pain of pericarditis radiates to the back rather than to the arm. Exertion generally does not worsen the pain of pericarditis, but the pain does get worse when the patient inhales. Pericarditis will also interfere with the normal sinus rhythm on an EKG.
Pericarditis can lead to a pericardial effusion, which is life-threatening. However, mild pericarditis can be treated with aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. More serious pericarditis may require removal of fluid from the pericardium, antibiotics, steroids, colchicine or even surgery.