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Pericarditis is swelling and inflammation of the pericardium, a sac surrounding your heart. It can be sudden or long term. The most common form is acute (sudden) pericarditis. Mild cases may get better on their own, while more severe cases may need medication and hospitalization.
Complications can include cardiac tamponade, which happens when fluid builds up in the pericardium. This condition is more serious and may require hospitalization and possibly surgery.
Long-term pericarditis can cause constrictive pericarditis, where the sac surrounding your heart gets tight with scar tissue and keeps your heart from working properly. It also may require surgery. Pericardial effusion -- excess fluid around the heart -- and constrictive pericarditis can happen together.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of pericarditis vary, but the most common is sharp chest pain.
What Causes It?
Many things can cause sudden pericarditis and pericardial effusion, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, cancer, trauma to the heart (such as chest injury), drug reactions, and radiation exposure. In many cases, however, the actual cause is unknown. Constrictive pericarditis usually happens when you have repeated (chronic) pericarditis.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will listen to your heart and lungs, looking for a distinctive sound the pericardium makes when it is inflamed and rubs against your heart. Your health care provider will probably order several tests, which may include blood work, an electrocardiogram (ECG), an echocardiogram, and chest x-ray.
Mild cases of pericarditis are usually treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Your health care provider may also prescribe colchicine or corticosteroid medicines. If a bacterial infection is causing your pericarditis, you will be given antibiotics.
To treat recurring pericarditis, your doctor may use several drugs, including NSAIDs at high dosage, slow tapering of a corticosteroid, and colchicine, and watch you closely. If you develop cardiac tamponade, your doctor may recommend a procedure called pericardiocentesis, which drains fluid from your chest. Total pericardiectomy -- removal of the pericardium -- is also an option.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
People with pericarditis should be under a doctor's care. Don't rely on supplements or herbs alone to treat pericarditis. Alternative therapies can be used along with conventional treatments, but your doctor needs to find out what's causing the inflammation in order to treat it properly. Be sure to let your doctors know about the alternative treatments and supplements you may be using.
Nutrition and Supplements
Your health care provider may recommend a low-salt diet if you have constrictive pericarditis.
Avoid saturated fats, alcohol, and sugars, which can increase inflammation and weaken your immune system.
Although there are no nutritional supplements that specifically treat pericarditis, these may strengthen your immune system and your heart health:
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (such as capsules, powders, and teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. of herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink two to four cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Although there are no herbs that specifically treat pericarditis, some may strengthen your immune system and your heart health. Take these herbs only under your doctor's supervision.
For heart support:
To strengthen the immune system short term:
Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual. Some of the most common remedies used for pericarditis are listed below. The common dose is three to five pellets of a 12X to 30C remedy every 1 - 4 hours until your symptoms improve.
Aconite -- for sudden, sharp pains accompanied by anxiety (especially fear of dying) and restlessness
Spongia tosta -- for the sensation that the chest will explode, anxiety, light-headedness, sweating; patient may be flushed
Cactus grandiflorus -- for the feeling that there is a band around the chest or a great weight on the chest, or palpitations, or if your condition feels better in the open air and worse at night
Your health care provider may order a follow-up x-ray or electrocardiogram.
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Review Date: 3/11/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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