Two types of pericarditis can occur after a heart attack.
The first type of pericarditis most often occurs within 2 to 5 days after a heart attack. When the body tries to clean up the diseased heart tissue, swelling and inflammation occur.
The second type of pericarditis is also called Dressler's syndrome (or post-cardiac injury syndrome or postcardiotomy pericarditis). It occurs several weeks or months after a heart attack, heart surgery, or other trauma to the heart. Dressler's syndrome is believed to be caused by the immune system attacking the area.
Pain occurs when the pericardium becomes inflamed (swollen) and rubs on the heart.
You have a higher risk of pericarditis if you have had a previous heart attack, open heart surgery, or chest trauma, or if your heat attack affected the thickness of your heart muscle.
Splinting of ribs (bending over or holding the chest) with deep breathing
Signs and tests
The health care provider will use a stethoscope to listen to your heart and lungs. There may be a rubbing sound (called a pericardial friction rub, not to be confused with a heart murmur). Heart sounds in general may be weak or sound far away.
A buildup of fluid in the covering of the heart or space around the lungs (pericardial effusion) is not common after a heart attack. But, it often does occur in some patients with Dressler's syndrome.
Tests may include:
Cardiac injury markers (CK-MB and troponin may help tell pericarditis from a heart attack)
The goal of treatment is to make the heart work better and reduce pain and other symptoms.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) or aspirin may be used to treat inflammation of the pericardium. Usually aspirin, even in high doses, is preferred in early post-MI pericarditis. In extreme cases, when other medicines don't work, steroids or colchicine may be used.
In some cases, excess fluid surrounding the heart (pericardial effusion) may need to be removed. This is done with a procedure called pericardiocentesis. If complications develop, part of the pericardium may need to be removed with surgery (pericardiectomy).
The condition may come back, even in people who receive treatment. In some cases, untreated pericarditis can be life threatening.
LeWinter MM. Pericardial disease. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 70.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.