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  • Anterior pleuritic chest pain that is worse supine than upright.

  • Pericardial rub.

  • Fever common.

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate or inflammatory CRP usually elevated.

  • ECG reveals diffuse ST-segment elevation with associated PR depression.


Acute (less than 2 weeks) inflammation of the pericardium may be infectious in origin or may be due to systemic diseases (autoimmune syndromes, uremia), neoplasm, radiation, drug toxicity, hemopericardium, postcardiac surgery, or contiguous inflammatory processes in the myocardium or lung. In many of these conditions, the pathologic process involves both the pericardium and the myocardium. Overall pericarditis accounts for 0.2% of hospital admissions and about 5% of patients with nonischemic chest pain seen in the emergency department. The ESC in 2015 proposed four categories of pericarditis and elucidated diagnostic criteria for each (Table 10–17). Viral infections (especially infections with coxsackieviruses and echoviruses but also influenza, Epstein-Barr, varicella, hepatitis, mumps, and HIV viruses) are the most common cause of acute pericarditis and probably are responsible for many cases classified as idiopathic. COVID-19 has been associated with both acute pericarditis and even cardiac tamponade. Males—usually under age 50 years—are most commonly affected. The differential diagnosis primarily requires exclusion of acute MI. Tuberculous pericarditis is rare in developed countries but remains common in certain areas of the world. It results from direct lymphatic or hematogenous spread; clinical pulmonary involvement may be absent or minor, although associated pleural effusions are common. Bacterial pericarditis is equally rare and usually results from direct extension from pulmonary infections. Pneumococci, though, can cause a primary pericardial infection. Borrelia burgdorferi, the organism responsible for Lyme disease, can also cause myopericarditis (and occasionally heart block). Uremic pericarditis is a common complication of chronic kidney disease. The pathogenesis is uncertain; it occurs both with untreated uremia and in otherwise stable dialysis patients. Spread of adjacent lung cancer as well as invasion by breast cancer, renal cell carcinoma, Hodgkin disease, and lymphomas are the most common neoplastic processes involving the pericardium and have become the most frequent causes of pericardial tamponade in many countries. Pericarditis may occur 2–5 days after infarction due to an inflammatory reaction to transmural myocardial necrosis (post-MI or postcardiotomy pericarditis [Dressler syndrome]). Radiation can initiate a fibrinous and fibrotic process in the pericardium, presenting as subacute pericarditis or constriction. Radiation pericarditis usually follows treatments of more than 4000 cGy delivered to ports including more than 30% of the heart.

Table 10–17.Definitions and diagnostic criteria for pericarditis.

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