Pericarditis | Symptoms and Treatment | MedStar Health

Inflammation of the fluid-filled layer that surrounds the heart

The pericardium is a membrane surrounding the heart that contains pericardial fluid. Pericarditis occurs when this layer becomes swollen or inflamed. It usually develops very quickly and can last for several months.

Our Cardiology Program has access to the most sophisticated diagnostic tools to diagnose and treat pericarditis. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to avoid serious complications such as pericardial effusion, a buildup of the fluid around the heart.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain. You also may experience:

  • Cough or fever

  • Dependent edema, or swelling in the abdomen and legs

  • Feeling of overall weakness

  • Heart palpitations, or the sensation that the heartbeat is skipping, slowing down, or racing

  • Shortness of breath


Diagnosing pericarditis is the first step to developing a treatment plan. Our specialists may recommend one or more diagnostic and imaging procedures.

Computerized tomography (CT) scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.


Our heart and vascular teams work together and with other specialties to develop and implement individualized plans for pericarditis. This could include medication or more advanced treatments.

Read our Cardiovascular Performance & Outcomes Booklet


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