Pericarditis: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

The heart

Pericarditis occurs when the membrane that surrounds the heart and its major blood vessels becomes inflamed. In most cases, the cause of pericarditis is not known. It can be caused by a virus, a heart attack, chest injury, or another illness. Pericarditis causes sharp chest pain, which gets worse when you lie down or take a deep breath. The pain gets better if you lean forward or sit up.

Pericarditis often heals on its own and usually does not cause any further problems. Most people recover within a couple of weeks.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Watch for the return of your original symptoms. Sometimes pericarditis can come back after it has gone away.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Get plenty of rest until you feel better, especially if you have a fever.
  • Avoid exercise and strenuous activity that has not been approved by your doctor. Ask your doctor when you can be active again.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You cough up pink, foamy mucus.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have any trouble breathing.
  • Your fever returns or gets worse.
  • You feel like you did when you first got sick.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have swelling in your legs or ankles.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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