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Recurrent pericarditis (NORD)



Patient care

Information for patients and families

The Primary School
The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
Glut1 Deficiency Foundation

Content Reviewers:

Kelly Johnson, MS

Recurrent pericarditis is a disease characterized by recurring episodes of swelling or inflammation of the fluid filled sac surrounding the heart, the pericardium.

Pericarditis is considered recurrent when an episode occurs at least four to six weeks after the end of a previous episode.

Each episode may last days to weeks and be followed by a period of time with no symptoms between episodes.

The main symptom of a pericarditis episode is a sharp chest pain that increases when taking deep breaths and lying down.

Pain may decrease when bending forward and may spread to the neck, upper back, or shoulders.

Other symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, tiredness, not feeling well, and a feeling that the heart is beating too hard or fast.

Symptoms of a recurrent pericarditis episode are usually similar to, but less severe than, the first episode. If the pericarditis becomes severe, blood flow throughout the body may decrease.

This decreased blood flow may make symptoms more intense, and may cause new symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, nausea, clammy moist skin, feet swelling, and loss of consciousness.

Anything that can cause pericarditis can also cause recurrent pericarditis. Most often this includes autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis, but may also be caused by metabolic disorders such as kidney failure, and rare inflammatory diseases like familial Mediterranean fever.

Recurrent pericarditis can also be caused by pericardial infections from viruses, drugs that target the pericardium, cancer, heart attacks and cardiac surgery.

All of these causes result in damage to pericardial tissue. In response to the pericardial injury, the body’s immune system begins to repair the tissue, causing swelling and inflammation in the area.

This inflammation may expand to surround the lungs leading to chest pain and difficulty breathing. The inflammation can also cause blood vessels around the heart to become leaky, allowing fluid to pool in the space between the heart and the pericardium.

If inflammation is prolonged, scar tissue may begin to form around the pericardium. This scar tissue can impair heart contraction and decrease elasticity of the pericardium.

Although rare, this decrease in heart contraction and elasticity is serious. Blood pressure may build up in veins entering the heart and pressure may lower from arteries leaving the heart.

This results in veins in the neck becoming visibly larger. It also leads to fluid build-up in the lungs and feet.