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Heart Health Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Dec 20, 2013 - 9:17:14 AM

Pericarditis — Chest Pain That's Usually not Related to a Heart Attack

By Staff Editor
Dec 20, 2013 - 9:13:56 AM

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( - ROCHESTER, Minn. - A sharp pain near the heart that spreads along the arm and neck might not be a heart attack. It could be pericarditis, an inflammation of the heart that is not life-threatening.

The December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers this condition that presents with symptoms similar to a heart attack. A prompt medical evaluation is the only way to determine what's wrong.

Two thin membranes, called the pericardium, surround the heart. They limit its expansion and help it work efficiently. Pericarditis occurs when these layers become inflamed. The most common symptom is stabbing chest pain behind the breastbone or on the left side of the chest that occurs even when resting. It can also occur with dull pain, achiness or pressure. Pain may travel to the left shoulder or neck. Other symptoms can include difficulty breathing, a dry cough, weakness, and feeling sick with fever and chills.

Tests to determine the cause of the pain and any complications may include an electrocardiogram to measure the heart's electrical activities, a chest X-ray or echocardiogram.

About 70 to 80 percent of the time, pericarditis is due to a viral infection or an unknown underlying cause. Treatment may include nonprescription naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), an anti-inflammatory medication, and temporary restriction of strenuous activities. Most people with acute pericarditis respond well to treatment within one week. Episodes that recur weeks, months or even years later, aren't unusual, and additional treatments may need to be considered.

For a small percentage of people, pericarditis is due to more worrisome underlying causes, which may be a heart attack; other infections such as tuberculosis, autoimmune or inflammatory diseases; kidney failure; or even trauma.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter es un boletín de noticias mensual de ocho páginas que contiene información confiable, precisa y práctica sobre lo último en salud y medicina. Para suscribirse, por favor, visite


About Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is the first and largest integrated, not-for-profit group practice in the world. Doctors from every medical specialty work together to care for patients, joined by common systems and a philosophy of "the needs of the patient come first." More than 3,700 physicians, scientists and researchers, and 50,100 allied health staff work at Mayo Clinic, which has campuses in Rochester, Minn; Jacksonville, Fla; and Scottsdale/Phoenix, Ariz.; and community-based providers in more than 70 locations in southern Minnesota., western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa. These locations treat more than half a million people each year. To obtain the latest news releases from Mayo Clinic, go to For information about research and education, ( is available as a resource for your health stories.


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