Dealing with the heart condition known as recurrent pericarditis can affect how you live your life. Recurrent pericarditis is tough because it can be unpredictable and confusing. Sometimes, it stops you from doing things you want or need to do because it can make you physically and mentally tired.
Living with recurrent pericarditis isn’t easy, but you’re not alone. Read on to understand your condition better and find ways to improve your quality of life.
Understanding recurrent pericarditis
Your heart is surrounded by a thin layer called the pericardium. This layer provides lubrication for the heart and shields it from infection and other types of harm.
When the pericardium gets inflamed or irritated, it can cause a condition called pericarditis. This happens when the irritated layers of the pericardium rub against each other and cause sharp chest pain or heavy pressure.
“Often the symptoms are worse when breathing in or lying down and improve with sitting up or forward,” said Rishi Patel, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Banner Health. “These episodes are often called a flare.”
There are different types of pericarditis. It may occur only once (acute) or reoccur more than four weeks after the first flare has stopped. While acute pericarditis can come on rapidly and often resolves quickly, recurrent pericarditis is unpredictable and can last many years.
“The first episode of pericarditis can be caused by several factors, such as viral, bacterial or fungal infections, certain medications or a result of certain autoimmune disorders like lupus, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis,” Dr. Patel said. “Unfortunately, often the cause is idiopathic, meaning it is uncertain.”
How recurrent pericarditis affects your life
Living with recurrent pericarditis can be challenging, especially when the pain won’t go away. It might make you feel tired, and you might worry about when the next flare-up will strike.
“It can also prove challenging at times to distinguish between an episode and other heart- or chest-related conditions like a heart attack,” Dr. Patel said. “Flares can often lead to hospital stays and emergency department visits.”
Tips for improving your quality of life
You can take actions that may help relieve your symptoms or reduce the risk of a future episode.
1. Connect with your health care provider
Your first move in this journey is teaming up with your health care provider. Most of your care will be provided by a cardiologist. They can spot any red flags and adjust your treatment plan if needed.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, flare-ups can be stubborn. If you notice symptoms worsening or new ones appearing, you should seek help.
“Ongoing management of pericarditis is important because it can prevent more serious conditions,” Dr. Patel said.
- Pericardial effusion: Fluid around the heart.
- Cardiac tamponade: The fluid sac around your heart fills with too much blood or fluid and puts pressure on your heart.
- Chronic constrictive pericarditis: The fluid sac around the heart becomes thick and scarred.
2. Medication help
Your provider may prescribe treatments to help with inflammation and ease pain. These may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), colchicine and corticosteroids.
Until 2021, there were no medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat recurrent pericarditis. “The FDA approved the first treatment therapy, Arcalyst, for managing recurrent pericarditis in people 12 years and older,” Dr. Patel said.
3. Get plenty of rest
Don’t do any strenuous exercise or physical activity for a few weeks until your symptoms have gone, and your heart is back to normal.
Your provider can guide you on how much time you might need to rest and safe exercises to ease back into that can keep your heart happy.
4. Manage stress and pain
Stress can sometimes worsen symptoms, so finding ways to relax is vital.
Try deep breathing, meditation or gentle yoga. Engage in activities you love, like drawing, reading or spending time with friends to help distract your mind from stress.
5. Build healthy habits
Your daily habits can be your armor against recurrent pericarditis:
- Healthy eating: Nourish your body with a balanced diet with colorful fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. If you have an autoimmune disease, an anti-inflammatory diet may help.
- Hydration: Drink plenty of water to help your heart work better and make it easier to breathe.
- Gentle exercise: Light exercises such as walking, swimming or yoga can help.
- No smoking and excess alcohol: Smoking and drinking too much can affect your heart’s health. It is also important to avoid secondhand smoke and other lung irritants.
6. Get plenty of sleep
You might find that pain or anxiety about the symptoms makes it harder for you to sleep at night. The following sleep tips may help you fall asleep and get back to sleep if you wake up at night:
- Find a sleeping position that is comfortable for you.
- Take a magnesium supplement to help lower feelings of restlessness/anxiety. Ask your provider before taking any new supplements.
- Take a warm bath.
- Apply warm compresses and heating pads or ice packs to your chest.
- Take some pain relief medications before bed. Ask your provider about the best way to manage your pain.
7. Connect with others
You don’t have to face recurrent pericarditis alone. Share your journey with friends and family so they can understand and provide support. Connect with others experiencing heart conditions by joining a support group or online community.
8. Avoid triggers
Educate yourself about recurrent pericarditis and understand what might set off your flare-ups. If your body gives you warning signs, take them seriously and talk to your provider.
Dealing with recurrent pericarditis may not always be easy but remember you’re in control of how you approach it. By following your health care provider’s guidance, making healthy choices and finding ways to relax, you can improve your quality of life and keep enjoying the things you love.
If you have questions or concerns, contact your health care provider or find a Banner Health specialist at bannerhealth.com.