Pericarditis and COVID-19
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COVID-19 can cause pericarditis in some cases.
- In rare cases, you can get pericarditis after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Several treatment options are available for pericarditis from COVID-19.
Pericarditis and COVID-19 have been a cause of concern throughout the pandemic, as several studies linked the two conditions to each other. This article will discuss how COVID-19 can be linked to pericarditis, how pericarditis can be diagnosed, and which treatment options are available.
Can COVID-19 cause pericarditis?
Pericarditis in COVID-19 patients is an inflammation of the pericardium caused by the coronavirus. The pericardium is a thin fibrous sac that surrounds the heart muscle. Its function is to keep the heart in place and to prevent friction from surrounding organs. The heart muscle can also get inflamed due to the coronavirus, a condition known as myocarditis. When the heart muscles and the pericardium are inflamed simultaneously, this is known as myopericarditis.
Pericarditis is often caused by a virus, such as the coronavirus. It can also be caused by other viruses, like an influenza virus, or another infection or inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis. In rare cases, pericarditis can also be caused by:1
- Chest injury or heart surgery
- Health problems such as cancer, kidney failure, or hypothyroidism
- Certain medicines or vaccines
What are the symptoms of pericarditis after COVID-19?
The most common symptom of pericarditis caused by COVID-19 is chest pain, which you can especially feel on the left-hand side of your chest or behind your breastbone. In some cases, the pain can spread to your shoulder and arms. The chest pain caused by pericarditis often worsens due to coughing, swallowing, taking a deep breath, or lying down. Leaning forward often eases the pain. Besides chest pain, there are a few other symptoms which you may experience, such as:2
Pericarditis and the COVID-19 vaccine
Pericarditis after the COVID-19 vaccine has been reported in very few cases. This side-effect especially presents itself with adolescents and young adult males. The symptoms of pericarditis usually manifest within several days after COVID-19 vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.
Those who experience pericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination mostly develop this condition after the second vaccination dose. Cases of pericarditis, which are linked to COVID-19 vaccination, are often mild and self-limiting. With the appropriate care, you should feel better quickly, allowing you to return to your normal daily activities once your symptoms improve.4
Although pericarditis and COVID-19 vaccination have been linked, the CDC still recommends vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. This is because the known risks and potential consequences of COVID-19 infection outweigh the potential risk of developing pericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination. Receiving all recommended vaccine doses and keeping your vaccination current is essential. If you have concerns about COVID-19 vaccination, you should ask your healthcare provider for advice.5
How can pericarditis caused by COVID-19 be diagnosed?
If you experience symptoms of pericarditis, like radiating chest pain or shortness of breath, it’s vital to get urgent medical care to exclude more severe conditions like myocardial infarction.
There are several ways to diagnose pericarditis caused by COVID-19. Your healthcare provider will ask you about the symptoms you’re experiencing and will listen to your chest. After that, there are some tests which can help your physician reach a diagnosis, such as:
- Blood tests that check for infections
- An electrocardiogram
- An echocardiogram
- A chest X-ray
These are common tests that usually don’t cause any discomfort or pain. If your doctor suspects that your pericarditis is linked to an active COVID-19 infection, you’ll also need to get tested for COVID-19. The best way to determine whether you have COVID-19 is through a PCR or antigen test. Both require a swab from the back of the throat or the nose, which can then be analyzed.6
Post-COVID-19 pericarditis treatment
Pericarditis after a COVID-19 infection can be treated in various ways depending on how severe the inflammation is. In light cases, pericarditis can be treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicine such as colchicine. If colchicine doesn’t help improve your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids. If the symptoms of your pericarditis are not improving or even worsening, surgery may be required to drain the inflamed fluid surrounding the heart.1 2 7
There are a few things that you can do to ease the symptoms you’re experiencing from pericarditis. Sitting up or leaning forward can help you alleviate your pain. Apart from that, it’s crucial to rest and adhere to the treatment plan set out by your healthcare provider.1
Pericarditis and COVID-19 have been linked to each other in several studies. Pericarditis can develop due to an infection with the coronavirus and can cause mild to severe illness. Mild cases of pericarditis have also been reported after COVID-19 vaccination. If you think you may have pericarditis, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about possible treatment options.
Q: What are the symptoms of pericarditis after COVID-19?
A: The symptoms of pericarditis may include a sharp or dull pressure-like pain in the chest, which worsens when you cough, swallow, lie down, or take a deep breath.
Q: How common is pericarditis or myocarditis after COVID-19 vaccination?
A: These side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine rarely occur. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh this possible side effect, which is why the CDC still recommends getting vaccinated.
Q: What is the difference between myocarditis and pericarditis?
A: Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle itself, while pericarditis is an infection of the pericardium. The pericardium is a fibrous sac surrounding the heart muscle.