Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, a sac surrounding the
heart. The most common form is acute pericarditis, which can usually be treated
without hospitalization. Common in adolescents and young adults, acute
pericarditis affects males more than females. Pericardial effusion is a form
that results when fluid builds up in the pericardium. It is a more serious
condition that can require hospitalization and possibly surgery. Constrictive
pericarditis is a form that is a chronic condition and worsens gradually over a
long period of time. It may ultimately require surgery. Pericardial effusion and
constrictive pericarditis can occur together.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of pericarditis vary somewhat.
Pain with swallowing
Feelings of anxiousness, discomfort, or
A bluish skin color
Congestion in the lungs
What Causes It?
Acute pericarditis and pericardial effusion have a large number of possible
causes, 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 results from
repeated cases of acute pericarditis.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will listen to your heart and lungs, take your
pulse, and probably tap your chest and back. Your provider will probably order a
number of tests, which may include blood work, an electrocardiogram, an
echocardiogram, chest X ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI).
Pericarditis is usually treated with aspirin or nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen), but steroid medications may
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies may have benefit as supportive treatments for some of
the causes of pericarditis. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a cardiac
tonic with very low toxicity that could be used along with whatever therapy your
provider deems most appropriate.
Vitamin C (1,000 mg three times per day) may help decrease
inflammation. It also aids in fighting infection, and is an
Coenzyme Q10 (50 mg bid) is an important antioxidant that may help
prevent heart muscle damage and speed recovery.
Your provider may recommend sodium restriction if you have
If your pericarditis is of viral origin, your provider may recommend
supplementation with vitamin A (300,000 IU/day for 3 days).
Flaxseed oil (3 g twice per day) helps decrease
Avoid saturated fats, alcohol, and sugars, which can lead to
increased inflammation and lowered immune function.
Consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
These foods are anti-inflammatory and protect the
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites
(glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise
indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep
covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots.
Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) can help prevent high blood
pressure and hardening of the arteries. Dose is 60 drops tincture three times
per day 1 tsp. berries steeped for 10 minutes in hot water, or 100 to 250 mg
three times per day as a supplement.
Linden (Tilia cordata) is used for high blood pressure with
nervous tension, and may be useful adjunctive treatment where there is anxiety.
Dose is 1 tsp. dried blossoms per cup hot water three times a day or 60 drops
tincture three times a day.
Blue monkshood (Aconitum napellus) has been described as an
herbal remedy for pericarditis without significant effusion. CAUTION: As this
herb can be highly toxic, even fatal, it is not recommended unless prescribed by
an experienced health care provider.
Some of the most common remedies used for pericarditis are listed below.
Usually, the dose is 3 to 5 pellets of a 12X to 30C remedy every one to four
hours until your symptoms get better.
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; palpitations; feels better in the open
air and worse at night
Can be very helpful in decreasing inflammation, enhancing immune response,
and regulating cardiac function.
Your provider may order a follow-up X ray or
Stoller JK, Ahmad M, Longworth DL, eds. The Cleveland Clinic Intensive Review
of Internal Medicine. Baltimore, Md: Williams & Wilkins;
Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Shiva Barton, ND, Wellspace,
Cambridge, MA; Peter Hinderberger, MD, PhD, Ruscombe Mansion Community Health
Center, Baltimore, MD; Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP, George Washington University,
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regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed