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My Experience With Pericarditis

Updated on March 13, 2017
M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer is the author of two novels and received a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University.

This guy isn't actually looking at an x-ray of a heart, I just needed a stock photo of someone in the medical profession.
This guy isn't actually looking at an x-ray of a heart, I just needed a stock photo of someone in the medical profession.

What Is Pericarditis?

What is pericarditis, and why should you care that I had it? Well, unless you’re having unusual chest pains, you probably don’t have this condition. However, I wanted to share my experience because of how quickly I was broadsided by it. This article isn’t intended to make you fearful. I hope that by raising awareness, you will be able to make the right decision if you are ever faced with a similar situation.

My Story

Pericarditis is a condition where the sac surrounding your heart becomes inflamed. If left untreated by anti-inflammatory drugs, the condition could lead to a build-up of fluids surrounding your heart, which would need to be extracted, or a build-up of enzymes that could make your heart think it's having a heart attack (or actually cause one to happen). In short, it can cause serious damage if not treated properly.

I was twenty-five when I was diagnosed with the condition (and when I wrote this article), so you can understand why I was shocked to discover I had a problem with my heart, especially when the causes of pericarditis are traditionally associated with the use of street drugs and more serious illnesses. My condition, it was determined, was caused by a virus. Even though this unknown virus was defeated by my immune system, the aftermath was pericarditis. Now, this is all information I gathered from the doctors who saw me and further knowledge of the condition should be obtained from credible sources. If you are interested in learning more, you can read a a good article about it on WebMD.

My Symptoms and Diagnosis

As I said above, I have no idea which virus caused this condition, and since I don’t have health insurance, I can’t find out without a considerable investment of money. (All I care about right now is a full recovery.)

But leading up to my visit to the hospital I experienced the following: First was diarrhea late on a Friday night. I assumed this was caused by eating a food that didn’t agree with me, but the next day, a Saturday, I experienced soreness in every muscle of my body, especially the neck and chest. At first I thought I was dehydrated, but a few temperature readings confirmed that I had a low-grade fever. Throughout Saturday and Sunday I overcame both the fever and the body soreness with two exceptions: my neck and my chest. The soreness in both seemed to worsen as the rest of my body got better. The best way I could describe the pain is for you to imagine the following scenario: someone either sits on your chest or presses down on it for a long period of time. Then when they finally get up or release the pressure, the pain you experience afterwards is similar to what I was feeling; except it was constant. The pain would lessen when I sat up, and only slightly when I drank water. It was the worst during the morning and on the last day before my hospital visit it felt very similar to muscle aches after over-exerting yourself.

It was Monday morning that my wife finally forced me to go to the emergency room. In retrospect, it must have been a no-brainer for her. I could barely walk, speak, or hold up a spoon to give myself medicine. I was reluctant to go because of the previously mentioned lack of insurance, but it was clear that I had no room left to argue. Upon reaching the hospital I went through a series of blood tests, chest x-rays and EKGs to determine what the problem was. At the time I was just thankful that whatever they gave me for the pain was working wonderfully, but I was completely floored when the doctor told me I had pericarditis. So much for all the theories I had beforehand (most of which focused around a problem with the esophagus). I was then told I would need to travel to a larger hospital where I would receive more tests and be monitored overnight. Even at this time I don’t think I realized the seriousness of the condition I had. Part of it was because I had no idea what pericarditis was, and part of it was because the doctors assured me I would be fine despite being taken to the other hospital in an ambulance. They were all just doing their job and they did it wonderfully. Our nation’s health insurance might be screwed up, but I am thankful for all of the help our doctors and nurses provided.

Treatment

Upon arriving at the larger hospital I was then put on a strict schedule of pills (anti-inflammatory drugs) and a diet for cardiac patients (even though it was not necessary). I also received more blood tests, EKGs and chest X-rays, but now it was accompanied by an echo-cardiogram (an ultrasound for the heart). Everything seemed okay; we had caught it in time, but it was decided they would keep me overnight in order to monitor my condition and make sure everything continued to get better. I saw a great deal of nurses, student doctors and financial advisors before I would finally be released (around 8:20pm on Tuesday). It took longer to get released than I thought (based on what the doctors kept telling me) but I was just thankful to be all right. The next few days were spent trying to rest up at home and taking indomethacin, the anti-inflammatory drug that I keep mentioning. It has a grocery list of side effects so I was glad to see that bottle finally empty. I also received a prescription for pepcid (an antacid) as a precaution to protect my stomach against the effects of the indomethacin.

High Hopes for a Full Recovery

As of right now, I’m nearly back to my old self with high hopes of a full recovery. One of the doctors I saw mentioned that had I been taking ibuprofen (an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain reliever), I might have avoided the condition altogether. Obviously I had no way of knowing that beforehand, but I’ll keep it in mind for future aches and pains. But my advice to everyone else is this; if you are experiencing chest pain without any logical cause, do not wait to go to the doctor. I understand that money is tight and insurance is hard to come by, but our lives aren’t worth risking. I was lucky enough to have a wife who cared for me and forced me to seek medical help, but if you don’t have a spouse or family looking out for you; use your own best judgment. No one should have to suffer from a condition that can be fixed if caught in time.

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    • M. T. Dremer profile image
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      M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States

      Elearn4Life - My doctor also said that if I had been taking ibuprofen, rather than aspirin, it might have worked itself out. Which is a stroke of bad luck since I take ibuprofen for all my headaches. Thanks for the comment and for sharing your story!

    • Elearn4Life profile image

      Darlene Matthews 4 years ago

      I also had this disorder. I developed a pain in my shoulder and thought I hurt my rotator cuff some how. Then later developed chest pains. The doctor told me the sac around my heart was inflamed and can cause pain in one or both shoulders as well.

      Ibuprofen was prescribed and work well. I was shocked but my heart is healthy. Always see your doctor is the best advise. Regards and Be Well!

    • M. T. Dremer profile image
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      M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States

      SarahUK - It's definitely not common among people our age. I still get raised eyebrows from doctors when I tell them I had it. Most of the time they think I'm remembering the name of the condition wrong, but when I describe it, they know I'm not making it up. That's rough that you have it again. Hopefully you're able to get it sorted out (take anti-inflammatory drugs if you can). Thanks for the comment!

    • profile image

      SarahUK 5 years ago

      I too have had Pericarditis, was 25 when I first got it back in December, it's now may I'm 26 and I have it again! It's a horrible horrible thing to have wrong with you, and the fatigue is something you cannot explain, I'm glad you are better, our experience are incredibly similar so I can completely relate!

      Best wishes for the future.

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      Thomas 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your information with us. Its true that Pericarditis occurs most often in men between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. In most cases,the cause of Pericarditis is unknown.

    • M. T. Dremer profile image
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      M. T. Dremer 6 years ago from United States

      Christina - I am also glad I'm better. I have my wife to thank for taking me in to the hospital. ;)

      Rusty - I didn't know what it was either, and it was certainly a scary way to find out.

      Thank you for the comments!

    • Rusty C. Adore profile image

      C Levrow 6 years ago from Michigan

      I never knew what Pericarditis was until this.

    • profile image

      Christina 7 years ago

      I'm glad that you are better now! Smart move going into the emergency room!