The pericardium can become inflamed producing acute or chronic pericarditis. However, the pericardium is not absolutely essential to life andcan be removed without significantly affecting the functioning of the heart.
Acute pericarditis has a sudden and often painful onset. There are also characteristic heart sounds. Symptoms include fever and chest pain that typically extends to the left shoulder and down the left arm. The inflammation causes fluid and blood components, such as fibrin, erythrocytes and leukocytes, to pour into the pericardial space. The inflammation may be caused by a viral infection, in which case the condition may be painful but short-lived and have no lasting effects, or result from a number of other causes, for example cancer, heart attack, AIDS, kidney failure, heart surgery and the side effects of certain drugs, some of which are life-threatening. The treatment for acute pericarditis is to hospitalize the patient and treat with antiinflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen that also reduce the pain. Further treatment depends on the underlying cause. Individuals with cancer that has invaded the pericardium rarely survive longer than 12–18 months.
The chronic form of the disease develops gradually and is long-lasting. Usually the cause is unknown, but cancer and a reduced thyroid function have been implicated.