Pericarditis is inflammation of the lining around your heart, which causes chest pain. It's not usually serious, but it can sometimes cause serious health problems. Get medical advice if you have chest pain.

Check if you have pericarditis

The main symptom of pericarditis is chest pain.

The chest pain usually:

  • feels sharp or stabbing
  • spreads to your shoulders, arms or tummy
  • gets worse when you breathe in deeply, swallow, cough or lie down (especially when you lie down on your left side)
  • gets better when you lean forward

You may also feel hot and shivery or have a high temperature, cough or painful joints.

If you get pericarditis, it often follows a viral infection like a cold or flu.

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 Wales if:

You have chest pain and it:

  • is sharp or stabbing
  • gets worse when you take a deep breath in, swallow, cough or lie down

Call 999 if:

You have sudden chest pain that:

  • spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw
  • makes your chest feel tight or heavy
  • also started with shortness of breath, sweating and feeling or being sick
  • lasts more than 15 minutes

You could be having a heart attack. Call 999 immediately as you need immediate treatment in hospital.

Tests for pericarditis

A GP will listen to your heart to check for pericarditis. This is because it can change the sound iyour heart makes.

To confirm pericarditis, the GP may:

ECGs are safe and painless, and some GPs can do them at the surgery.

Treatment for pericarditis

Treatment for pericarditis will depend on what's causing it. You may be given anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, to help ease symptoms like pain.

Sitting up or leaning forward can also help ease the pain.

You may need other treatment. For example, a GP may prescribe medicines such as:

  • colchicine – if anti-inflammatory painkillers do not work or pericarditis keeps coming back
  • steroids – if colchicine does not work
  • antibiotics – if pericarditis is caused by a bacterial infection

Most people feel better within a few weeks.

Causes of pericarditis

Your heart has a protective fluid-filled sac around it called the pericardium.

In pericarditis, the pericardium gets inflamed, and blood or fluid can leak into it.

It's difficult to confirm the exact cause of pericarditis, but it's usually a viral infection, such as a cold or flu.

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 07/03/2024 11:08:25