Pericarditis is an inflammation of the sac around the heart. In some cases, the inflammation may cause fluid to build up in the sac and make it difficult for the heart to move.
The exact cause of pericarditis is often unknown. Infections, injuries or chronic disease may be involved in some cases.
Factors that increase the risk for pericarditis include:
Chest pain is a common symptom. It may start over the left side or center of the chest and spread to the neck and left shoulder. The pain is usually a sharp, stabbing pain that may be worse with deep breathing or lying down.
Other symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen for a grating or rubbing sound in your child’s heart. If the condition is severe, there may also be a crackle sound in your child’s lungs.
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with:
Your child's heart activity may be tested. This can be done with an electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG).
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
The illness can range from mild to life-threatening. Acute inflammatory pericarditis usually improves with treatment within a few weeks or months. Pericarditis caused by chronic inflammatory diseases, like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, may last longer or occur again.
Treatment options include:
The doctor may recommend medication to:
Antibiotics may be given if the pericarditis is associated with a bacterial infection.
For severe pericarditis, your child may need:
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Canadian Family Physician
Pediatric pericarditis. Cincinnati Children's website. Available at:
Pericarditis. Seattle Children's Hospital website. Available at
Last reviewed December 2013 by Kari Kassir, MD