Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


3-minute read

Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, the thin sac-like membrane around your heart. It becomes swollen and irritated. Pericarditis often causes chest pain and sometimes other symptoms.

Most people with pericarditis need monitoring and treatment to reduce the pain and swelling. If complications develop, surgery may be needed.

Chest pain can be the sign of something more serious, like a heart attack. If you think you may be having a heart attack, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance. If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile phone, try calling 112.

Types of pericarditis

The main types of pericarditis are:

  • acute pericarditis — symptoms begin suddenly, but don’t last long
  • chronic pericarditis — symptoms develop gradually and persist, or may persist after an acute attack
  • recurring pericarditis — repeated attacks of acute pericarditis

What causes pericarditis?

Usually the cause of pericarditis can’t be found. A viral infection is often suspected but is difficult to confirm.

Pericarditis can also develop after a heart attack. Other less common causes include autoimmune disorders, complication of a bacterial infection, and heart or chest injury

Pericarditis symptoms

The most common symptom of pericarditis is sharp, piercing chest pain in the centre or left hand of your chest.

Depending on the cause of pericarditis, symptoms may also include:

Complications of pericarditis can be:

  • Constrictive pericarditis — permanent thickening and scarring of the pericardium, which stops the heart beating properly, often leading to severe swelling of the legs and abdomen.
  • Cardiac tamponade — a dangerous condition, where too much fluid collects in the pericardium, which puts pressure on the heart and causes blood pressure to drop dramatically. This is life-threatening and requires emergency treatment.

How is pericarditis diagnosed?

Your doctor may perform a physical examination and listen to your heart using a stethoscope. They may also run blood and other tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), and suggest that you have a chest x-ray to check the size and shape of your heart, or other imaging such as an echocardiogram (ultrasound), CT scan or MRI scan.

Pericarditis is usually able to be confirmed with a physical examination and electrocardiogram (ECG).

How is pericarditis treated?

Treatment will depend on type of pericarditis you have, and may include:

If an underlying cause is found, it will be treated where possible. You may also be monitored for potential complications. You will also be advised to avoid strenuous activity until your symptoms get better.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Pericarditis - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website


Pericarditis information.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Heart attack -

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) means the blood supply to part of the heart muscle has become blocked. Early treatment can reduce muscle damage.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo