Symptoms of Fluid Build-up Around the Heart (Pericarditis)

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The heart is an amazing organ. It works tirelessly to pump oxygen rich blood throughout our systems so we can maintain maximum health. A thin lining called the pericardium protects the heart. It can become inflamed for a number of reasons, resulting in pericarditis. While this condition may clear up on its own, it is important to consult a physician for its symptoms, as they may be an indicator of a more serious, underlying health condition.


Pericarditis is not only a condition, it can also be a symptom or a complication of another health condition. The only way to determine its cause and receive proper treatment is to consult a doctor. Many times, the treatment of pericarditis is simple, but if it is not detected early, it can lead to potentially fatal complications. Its initial symptoms can resemble the symptoms of other cardiac conditions, making it difficult to distinguish between them. Knowing its specific symptoms and seeking treatment can mean the difference between life and death.


91967.jpg Pericardial sacs filled with fluid and inflamed.
Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium. The pericardial sac always contains a minimal amount of fluid which acts as a lubricant for the heart. When the pericardium becomes inflamed, the fluid in the sac increases. This results in chest pain caused by the pericardium rubbing against the heart. If a pericardial rub (scratching noise in the heart), is present, your doctor may opt to prescribe antibiotics to treat any bacterial or viral infection that may have caused the pericarditis. Many times, the condition can be successfully treated with no further problems. There is a chance for complications though, and if the symptoms reappear, your doctor may order tests such as an echocardiogram, which will show any fluid accumulation around the heart, or a CT Scan, which offers a more detailed picture of the pericardium.


Pericarditis can be either acute or chronic.

The symptoms of the less serious acute pericarditis, which is simply inflammation of the pericardium, are a sharp or dull chest pain which will occassionally extend over the left shoulder. The pain may become worse when laying down or attempting to breathe deeply. Other symptoms include a fever, coughing or feeling weak and tired. A complication known as tamponade results from fluid building up in the pericardial sac, preventing the heart from filling completely and reducing your heart’s blood output. If this happens, the lungs become congested and you may experience a shortness of breath and weakness.

Next there is chronic pericarditis which develops when the inflammation of the pericardium doesn’t get better after a couple of weeks. Its symptoms are the same as those experienced with acute pericarditis, but the condition lasts much longer.

Last there is constrictive pericarditis. This develops when the inflamed pericardial sacs constrict the heart, preventing it from pumping properly. Its symptoms are the same as those experienced with tamponade.

Pericarditis can be a symptom of such conditions as cancer, lupus and rheumatic fever. It can also be a complication that has stemmed from epiglottis, an inflammation in the esophagus, or tuberculosis, a bacterial infection in the lungs.


Treatment for pericarditis includes the use of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications when the condition is acute pericarditis. However, if there is an underlying health problem or a complication from the acute pericarditis arises, surgery may be required to drain the excess fluid.

You can help prevent pericarditis: Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, stay away from cigarettes, eat a healthy, low fat diet, and be physically active.


If complications occur with pericarditis, you are at high risk for sudden heart failure. Symptoms of complications include sudden, severe of the shortness of breath, a sudden and rapid heart rate, or a pink, foamy mucus appearing when you cough. If any of these more symptoms occur, seek medical help immediately.



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