5 Things Lupus Sufferers Need To Know About Pericarditis

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect many organ systems throughout your body, including your cardiovascular system. One of the many heart issues that is associated with lupus is pericarditis. Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the tissue that surrounds and cushions your heart. Here are five things lupus sufferers need to know about pericarditis.

How does lupus cause pericarditis?

Lupus can lead to a lot of heart problems, but pericarditis is the most common lupus-associated heart disease. Like other lupus complications, it's caused by inflammation.

When you have lupus, your body produces autoantibodies, immune cells that attack your own body. These autoantibodies bond to your healthy cells and form immune complexes. Immune complexes circulate throughout your body, and when they build up on a particular tissue, they cause inflammation and disease. Pericarditis occurs when these immune complexes build up on your pericardium.

What complications are associated with pericarditis?

Many complications are associated with pericarditis. One of these complications is cardiac tamponade, which means that the inflammation in the pericardium compresses your heart. This compression keeps your heart from working as well as it should.

Another complication is constrictive pericarditis. This means that your pericardium has become permanently thickened and scarred, which keeps your heart from expanding as much as it should when blood enters it.

You may also develop noncompressive effusion, a condition characterized by the buildup of fluids around the heart. When your heart's function is impaired by one of these complications, you may feel weak and generally unwell, with swollen legs or a swollen abdomen.

What are the symptoms of pericarditis?

The most common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain. Generally, this pain is localized on the left side of your chest or just beneath your breastbone, and people describe it as sharp or stabbing. Sometimes, the pain can be dull or feel like pressure, but this is less common. You may feel like you're having a heart attack when the symptoms start as the pain is quite similar.

The pain may radiate to other parts of your body like your left shoulder or your neck. You may feel better when you're sitting up, but as soon as you lie down, the pain will return.

If your pericarditis becomes chronic, you'll start to feel generally unwell. You'll feel very tired and short of breath and may develop a fever and a cough. Make sure to seek treatment for your symptoms before they get to this point.

How is pericarditis treated?

Pericarditis that is associated with lupus is generally treated with anti-inflammatory treatments, according to Medscape. These medications may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids.

Additional treatments may also be required. If you have fluid buildup around your heart, you'll need to remain in the hospital for monitoring. If a lot of fluid is present, you may need to undergo medical procedures like pericardiocentesis. During this procedure, a surgeon will insert a needle into the space around your heart and draw out excess fluid. They will use an ultrasound to see your heart without needing to make any incisions.

If pericardiocentesis isn't enough, you may need additional procedures. A pericardial window can be placed to allow fluids to drain out of the region, and in very severe cases, you may need surgery to remove part or all of your pericardium.

How can pericarditis be prevented?

To prevent pericarditis, you'll need to ensure that your lupus is well-managed. If your current medications aren't helping, make sure your doctor is aware so that you can be switched to a different medication. Corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and even antimalarial drugs can be used to control lupus, so you have a lot of options.

If you have lupus and are worried about pericarditis, see a doctor right away at a clinic like Van Wert County Hospital.