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
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.