Basic Facts

  • Pericardial disease refers to disorders involving the pericardium, the double-layered fibrous membrane that surrounds and protects the heart.
  • Common types of pericardial disease include pericarditis, which is inflammation of the pericardium, and pericardial effusion which is the accumulation of fluid in the pericardium. If enough fluid builds up,  it can compress the heart muscle leading to a dangerous condition called cardiac tamponade.
  • Long term pericardial disease can lead to heart failure.
  • The main symptom is chest pain that may be worsened by lying down, coughing, breathing deeply, and sometimes by swallowing. Sitting up and leaning forward often reduces the pain.

If a person experiences any of the symptoms associated with pericardial disease, he or she should seek immediate medical attention.

Acute pericarditis can be caused by a viral infection but is often idiopathic, meaning it has no identifiable cause. The cause of chronic pericarditis is also often idiopathic, but it has been associated with the same conditions that cause acute pericarditis, which include:

  • Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections,
  • Autoimmune disorders,
  • Cancer, especially Hodgkin's disease, and radiation treatment of cancer,
  • Kidney failure,
  • Side effects from drugs,
  • Heart attack, and
  • Heart surgery.

Although cardiac tamponade can result from any cause of pericarditis, its principal causes are:

  • Tumors,
  • Uremia, or kidney failure 
  • Bleeding into the pericardium because of surgery or injury, and 
  • Bleeding caused by anticoagulants in patients with acute pericarditis.