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The pericardium is a thin membrane that surrounds and protects your heart. This membrane helps prevent infection and also keeps your heart from expanding too much. Diseases and health problems can cause an inflammation of this membrane, or pericarditis. The causes of pericarditis include:
The symptoms of bacterial pericarditis depend on the severity of your condition and any underlying health problems. The most common symptom is sharp, stabbing chest pain, also known as pleuritis. This pain often moves or radiates to other parts of the body, including the left shoulder and neck.
Other symptoms that may occur with bacterial pericarditis include:
This condition occurs when certain bacteria enter the pericardium and cause infection. The most common bacteria to cause pericarditis are Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Pneumococcus.
Bacteria can enter the pericardium:
People with a weak immune system are at an increased risk of developing bacterial pericarditis because their bodies are less able to fight infection. Health problems that may increase your risk of developing this disorder include:
According to the Cleveland Clinic, men between 20 and 50 are more likely to develop this condition. Bacterial pericarditis often develops following a lung infection.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam to see if you have the symptoms of bacterial pericarditis. They’ll use a stethoscope to listen for sounds in your chest. If you have bacterial pericarditis, they’ll be able to detect pericardial rub, which is a sound that occurs when the layers of the infected pericardium rub together.
Your doctor may also check to see if you have:
If you have any of these conditions, your doctor will order additional tests to confirm a diagnosis. These tests may include:
If you have pericarditis, your doctor will need to determine if bacteria have caused it. Your doctor may need to order tests to detect the presence of harmful bacteria. These tests include:
The goal of treatment is to cure the infection. Bed rest is important, and you’ll also need to elevate your head while lying down to reduce the strain on your heart.
Your doctor may also prescribe medications, including:
If your condition is severe, you may need surgery, including:
Some people develop a condition known as chronic pericarditis, in which infection lasts for six months or more, or frequently recurs. Doctors only remove the pericardium if other treatments can’t stop the infection from occurring again.
Complications from this condition can include:
If you develop any of these complications, it may be more difficult to treat your pericarditis and it may lead to chronic pericarditis.
Your outlook depends on whether you develop any other health complications. Other complications will need treatment. This prolongs the period of illness and increases the risk of permanent damage and recurrence of infection.
Early detection and diagnosis are important to stop and treat bacterial pericarditis before it spreads and creates other complications. If you get the proper treatment, it can last up to three months, and you can recover completely and return to normal activities once the infection goes away. If you don’t get treatment, it can lead to other health issues and it can be fatal.
Written by: Darla Burke
Medically reviewed on: Apr 29, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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