Outline of chest showing the heart's placement behind the ribs and the pericardium

Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin sac (membrane) that surrounds the heart.

The pericardium holds the heart in place and helps it work correctly. Normally, there is a small amount of fluid between the inner and outer layers of the pericardium. This fluid keeps the layers from rubbing as the heart moves to pump blood. With pericarditis, there may be an increase in the amount of fluid. Sometimes this fluid can restrict how well the heart pumps and it may need to be removed. Pericarditis may last for 2 to 6 weeks.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • It’s important to rest until you feel better. Don’t do any strenuous activity during this time.

  • You may use ibuprofen or naproxen to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding. Acetaminophen may not help this type of pain as much as ibuprofen or naproxen.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Mild shortness of breath or more pain with breathing

  • Mild weakness or dizziness

  • Cough with small amount of dark-colored phlegm (sputum) or blood

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • Leg swelling

  • Fast pulse rate that doesn't go away with rest

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • A change in the type of pain. This means if it feels different, becomes more severe, lasts longer, or starts to spread into your shoulder, arm, neck, jaw, or back.

  • Fainting, or severe weakness or dizziness

  • Cough with large amount of dark-colored phlegm (sputum) or blood

  • Severe shortness of breath or pain with breathing

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