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Heart Disease » Pericarditis

Introduction 

Pericarditis is a condition that involves inflammation of the pericardium, which is the membrane that surrounds the heart. The role of the pericardium is to anchor the heart, and help prevent excessive movement in the chest due to breathing or body movement. Pericarditis is characterised by mild to severe chest pain, which often increases with deep breathing or lying flat, and is usually relieved by sitting up or leaning forward. Depending on the cause of pericarditis, individuals can also experience shortness of breath and fever.

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Pericarditis generally occurs in men aged 20-50, and cases can range from mild symptoms which resolve spontaneously, to severe cases which require surgery. Most people recover from pericarditis in two weeks to three months, and the condition can be caused by heart attack, infection, cancer, kidney failure, immune disorders or some medications. People who have had chest trauma, open heart surgery or a heart attack are at increased risk of developing pericarditis.

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Pericarditis is not usually a life-threatening illness, and most cases resolve without any permanent loss of cardiac function. There are three important complications that can arise, which include tamponade (accumulation of fluid), constrictive pericarditis and chronic (long term) pericarditis. Pericarditis is treated by the administration of analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and diuretics, which relive pain and treat inflammation. If fluid build-up around the heart is excessive, then drainage may be required, either by catheter or surgery. ?

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