Pericardial disease is a group of disorders that involve the pericardium, the double-layered fibrous membrane surrounding the heart. The pericardium keeps the heart in place in the chest, but the heart is able to function after complete removal of the pericardium.
Major disorders of the pericardium include:
- Acute pericarditis, or inflammation of the pericardium
- Cardiac tamponade, a rapid or large accumulation of fluid in the pericardial sac; and
- Constrictive pericarditis, the thickening and scarring of the pericardium which prevents the heart from filling with blood
Acute pericarditis: Acute pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium that occurs rapidly and typically lasts for 2 to 6 weeks. The most common disorder of the pericardium, it can occasionally be life threatening, and occurs mostly in men between the ages of 20 and 50.
Cardiac tamponade: Cardiac tamponade is a rapid or large accumulation of fluid in the pericardium, which compresses the heart. This compression inhibits the heart's ability to fill with blood and pump it to the rest of the body effectively. Cardiac tamponade is life threatening because it can lead to low blood pressure, shock, and heart failure.
Constrictive pericarditis: Constrictive pericarditis refers to the thickening of fibrous tissues, stiffening, or calcification, and scarring of the pericardium, which reduces its elasticity. Over the long term, constrictive pericarditis compresses the heart and reduces its size, making it difficult for the heart to expand properly and pump blood to the body. Poor circulation results, which may lead to swelling in the abdomen and ankles. Without treatment, the condition progressively worsens and limits the function of the heart and other organs, especially the liver.