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Chest pain is the most common pericarditis symptom that causes a patient to seek medical care. The pain is usually sharp and pleuritic, meaning that it hurts worse to take a deep breath. It is often worse when lying flat and is eased somewhat by leaning forward. The pain can radiate to the back or left shoulder.
Fever, weakness, and malaise may be present, as with any other inflammatory process in the body.
If the pericarditis persists, fluid can accumulate around the heart, termed a pericardial effusion. The effusion can raise the pressure inside the pericardium causing cardiac tamponade that prevents the heart muscle from contracting and beating adequately. This can cause symptoms of shortness of breath, weakness, syncope (fainting), and in some people, death.
Constrictive pericarditis occurs when the pericardium scars down and adheres to the heart surface; it can prevent the heart from expanding to receive blood returning from the body. This type of pericarditis can present with swelling (edema) of the feet, ankles and legs.
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