Pericarditis has different classification types, depending on the pattern of symptoms and how long symptoms last. Acute pericarditis usually lasts less than three weeks. Incessant pericarditis lasts about four to six weeks but less than three months and is continuous.
Pericarditis is described as recurrent if it occurs about four to six weeks after an episode of acute pericarditis with a symptom-free interval in between. Pericarditis is considered chronic if symptoms last longer than three months.
If you have acute pericarditis, the most common symptom is sharp, stabbing chest pain behind the breastbone or in the left side of your chest. However, some people with acute pericarditis describe their chest pain as dull, achy or pressure-like instead, and of varying intensity.
The pain of acute pericarditis may travel into your left shoulder and neck. It often intensifies when you cough, lie down or inhale deeply. Sitting up and leaning forward can often ease the pain. At times, it may be difficult to distinguish pericardial pain from the pain that occurs with a heart attack.
Chronic pericarditis is usually associated with chronic inflammation and may result in fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion). The most common symptom of chronic pericarditis is chest pain.
Depending on the type, signs and symptoms of pericarditis may include some or all of the following:
Sharp, piercing chest pain over the center or left side of the chest, which is generally more intense when breathing in
Shortness of breath when reclining
An overall sense of weakness, fatigue or feeling sick
Abdominal or leg swelling
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical care if you develop new symptoms of chest pain.
Many of the symptoms of pericarditis are similar to those of other heart and lung conditions. The sooner you are evaluated, the sooner you can receive proper diagnosis and treatment. For example, although the cause of acute chest pain may be pericarditis, the original cause could have been a heart attack or a blood clot of the lungs (pulmonary embolus).