Pericarditis is an inflammation, or swelling, of the sac surrounding the heart. This tissue holds the heart in place and helps it to work. Recurrent pericarditis occurs when additional episodes of pericarditis occur at least 4 to 6 weeks after the first episode.
Recurrent pericarditis can be caused by several factors, including viral infection, injury to the heart or pericardium, or connective tissue disease; but in many cases the cause cannot be determined.
A common symptom of recurrent pericarditis is chest pain, caused by the sac’s layers becoming inflamed and possibly rubbing against the heart. Other symptoms may include fluid build-up in the pericardium, a scratching sound a doctor can hear with a stethoscope (called a pericardial rub), and certain abnormal findings from an electrocardiogram (EKG).
Recurrent pericarditis can be painful and even frightening for people who experience it. The pain associated with it can have a negative impact on quality of life.
There are no FDA-approved therapies for recurrent pericarditis in the US. Inflammation is usually managed with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), colchicine, or corticosteroids. Patients have to refrain from exercising until pericarditis resolves. Over time, with multiple pericarditis episodes, some patients may become dependent on anti-inflammatory drugs, especially corticosteroids, or may require surgery to remove the sac around the heart.