Pericarditis in Children

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Pericarditis is an inflammation of the sac around the heart. In some cases, the inflammation may cause fluid to build up in the sac and make it difficult for the heart to move. The illness can range from mild to life-threatening.

Children have an increased risk for pediatric pericarditis if they had or have:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Heart surgery
  • Infection
  • Chest trauma or injury
  • Autoimmune disorders

Symptoms of Pericarditis in Children

Your child may experience a sharp, stabbing chest pain that worsens with deep breathing or lying down. This common symptom often starts over the left side or center of the chest and spreads to the neck and left shoulder.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Fever and chills
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irregular heartbeat


To check your child’s heart, your pediatrician may:

  • Listen for grating, rubbing or crackling sounds in your child’s chest
  • Conduct scans, like X-rays or echocardiograms
  • Test your child’s heart activity with an EKG
  • Check your child’s blood and the fluid around the heart

Pediatric Pericarditis Treatments

Acute inflammatory pericarditis usually improves with treatment within a few weeks or months. Pericarditis caused by chronic inflammatory diseases, like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, may last longer or occur again.

Your child’s provider may prescribe medication to:

  • Decrease inflammation
  • Manage pain
  • Address a bacterial infection, if present

For severe pericarditis, your child may need a procedure:

  • Pericardiocentesis — removal of fluid around the heart with a needle
  • Pericardiectomy — removal of the sac around the heart