Pericarditis

Inflammation of the lining around the heart, it’s usually caused by a number of different viruses.ย  The only treatment is pain medicine, until it gets better on its own. Some viruses need to be identified for their own treatment, mainly HIV (by an HIV test).ย  Don’t be afraid of the word “heart,” this doesn’t lead to heart attacks or any permanent damage.

We suspect pericarditis when a patient has chest pain that hurts with every breath, but not with movements.ย  Patients usually feel better leaning forward.ย  Sometimes with our stethoscopes we can hear a rub with every heart beat.ย  An EKG has very typical findings.

The issue is more complicated if fluid called “pericardial effusion” builds up in the pericardial lining.ย  This doesn’t often happen with pericarditis, but rather a variety of other conditions, including TB, cancer, inflammatory diseases (like types of arthritis), etc..ย  Effusions usually cause shortness of breath; the EKG looks different.ย  Diagnosis involves an echocardiogram, is more complex, and pursued by cardiology specialists.ย  It may require aspiration of the fluid to make the diagnosis.

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