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Contributors: Alanna Peterson MD, Nicholas Genes MD, PhD, Ryan Hoefen MD, PhD, Bruce Lo MD
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Emergent Care / Stabilization: Start an intravenous (IV) line and evaluate for signs and symptoms of cardiac tamponade. If present and hemodynamically significant, drainage via pericardiocentesis or pericardial window should be performed as soon as possible.

Etiology / Pathophysiology: Pericarditis is an inflammation of the fibrous tissue sac surrounding the heart. The exact incidence of pericarditis is unknown, although data suggests it represents 5% of emergency department (ED) visits admitted for chest pain.

Pericarditis of an infectious etiology is predominantly viral (90%). The most common of these include coxsackievirus A or B, echovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, HIV, cytomegalovirus, and parvovirus B19. Viral pericarditis may also involve the myocardium, causing myopericarditis. SARS-CoV-2 is associated with both pericarditis and myocarditis with higher mortality than other viral illnesses. Additionally, rare cases of myocarditis following SARS-CoV-2 vaccination have been reported, predominantly in younger males.

The most common bacterial pathogens include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and, in developing countries, tuberculosis. Fungi such as Candida spp and parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii also cause pericarditis.

Noninfectious causes include trauma, surgery (especially cardiothoracic surgery such as coronary artery bypass grafting), myocardial infarction, uremia, aortic dissection, myxedema, radiation, rheumatological conditions (including lupus, sarcoidosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma), medications (including hydralazine, procainamide, methyldopa, phenytoin, and penicillin), and malignancy. Many cases are idiopathic.

Symptoms and Signs: Acute pericarditis typically presents with sharp pleuritic chest pain, exacerbated by the supine position and improved with leaning forward. Fever and myalgias may be present but are not required features. On examination, a scratch-like friction rub (pericardial rub) may be heard, although this is present in less than 33% of cases. To make the diagnosis of pericarditis, the patient must have 2 of 4 criteria: pericardial rub, chest pain, ECG changes, and/or presence of a pericardial effusion. Chest pain has the highest incidence and is seen in 85%-90% of cases.

Predisposing Medical History and Risk Factors: As described above, viral infections often precede pericarditis, and patients may report systemic signs and symptoms of infection. Pericarditis should also be considered in any patient with recent cardiothoracic surgery or underlying rheumatologic disease. Recurrent pericarditis is seen in 15%-30% of patients.


I31.9 – Disease of pericardium, unspecified

3238004 – Pericarditis

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Diagnostic Pearls

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Acute coronary syndrome
  • Aortic dissection
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pneumothorax
  • Pneumonia (see, eg, Community-acquired pneumonia)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Best Tests

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Management Pearls

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Drug Reaction Data

Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

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Last Reviewed:08/29/2022
Last Updated:09/04/2023
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A medical illustration showing key findings of Pericarditis : Fever, Cardiomegaly, Pericardial effusion, Pericardial friction rub, Pleuritic chest pain, Dyspnea, Diffuse ST elevation, PR depression
Imaging Studies image of Pericarditis - imageId=6789416. Click to open in gallery.  caption: '<span>Frontal view from chest xray demonstrating cardiomegaly in a patient with a history of pericardits.</span>'
Frontal view from chest xray demonstrating cardiomegaly in a patient with a history of pericardits.
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.