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Pericarditis

Pericarditis causes chest pain and a high temperature. It's not usually serious, but it can cause serious health problems. Get medical advice if you have chest pain.

Urgent advice: Call NHS 111 if:

Your chest pain is:

  • sharp or stabbing
  • gets worse when you take a deep breath in or lie down

You may also have a high temperature and feel hot and shivery.

These could be symptoms of pericarditis.

Pericarditis often follows a viral infection, such as a sore throat or cold.

Contact NHS 111.

What happens at your appointment

A GP will listen to your heart. Pericarditis can change the sound it makes.

To confirm pericarditis, the GP may:

ECGs are safe and painless, and some GPs can do them out at the surgery.

Immediate action required: Call 999 if:

You have sudden chest pain that:

  • spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw
  • makes your chest feel tight or heavy
  • also started with shortness of breath, sweating and feeling or being sick
  • lasts more than 15 minutes

You could be having a heart attack. Call 999 immediately as you need immediate treatment in hospital.

Treating pericarditis

Treatment for pericarditis will depend on what's causing it. You may be given anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, and you should feel better within 1 to 2 weeks.

Sitting up or leaning forward can also help ease the pain.

You may need other treatment. For example, a GP may prescribe these medicines:

  • colchicine – if anti-inflammatory painkillers do not work or you're not able to take them
  • steroids – if colchicine does not work
  • antibiotics – if pericarditis is caused by a bacterial infection

Causes of pericarditis

Your heart has a protective fluid-filled sac around it called the pericardium.

In pericarditis, the pericardium gets inflamed, and blood or fluid can leak into it.

It's difficult to confirm the exact cause of pericarditis, but it's usually a viral infection.

Page last reviewed: 21 September 2020
Next review due: 21 September 2023