Bacterial pericarditis usually requires surgical drainage in addition to treatment with appropriate antibiotics.11 Tuberculous pericarditis is treated with multidrug therapy; when underlying HIV is present, patients should receive highly active anti-retroviral therapy as well. Steroids and immunosuppressants should be considered in addition to NSAIDs and colchicine in autoimmune pericarditis.10 Neoplastic pericarditis may resolve with chemotherapy but it has a high recurrence rate.13 Uremic pericarditis requires intensified dialysis.
Treatment options for uncomplicated idiopathic or viral pericarditis include:
NSAIDs. It is important to adequately dose NSAIDs when treating acute pericarditis. Initial treatment options include ibuprofen (1,600 to 3,200 mg daily), indomethacin (75 to 150 mg daily) or aspirin (2 to 4 gm daily) for one week.11,15 Aspirin is preferred in patients with ischemic heart disease. For patients with symptoms that persist longer than a week, NSAIDS may be continued, but investigation for an underlying etiology is indicated. Concomitant proton-pump-inhibitor therapy should be considered in patients at high risk for peptic ulcer disease to minimize gastric side effects.
Colchicine. Colchicine has a favorable risk-benefit profile as an adjunct treatment for acute and recurrent pericarditis. Patients experience better symptom relief when treated with both colchicine and an NSAID, compared with NSAIDs alone (88% versus 63%). Recurrence rates are lower with combined therapy (11% versus 32%).16 Colchicine treatment (0.6 mg twice daily after a loading dose of up to 2 mg) is recommended for several months to greater than one year.13,16,17
Glucocorticoids. Routine glucocorticoid use should be avoided in the treatment of acute pericarditis, as it has been associated with an increased risk for recurrence (OR 4.3).16,18 Glucocorticoid use should be considered in cases of pericarditis refractory to NSAIDs and colchicine, cases in which NSAIDs and or colchicine are contraindicated, and in autoimmune or connective-tissue-disease-related pericarditis. Prednisone should be dosed up to 1 mg/kg/day for at least one month, depending on symptom resolution, then tapered after either NSAIDs or colchicine have been started.13 Smaller prednisone doses of up to 0.5 mg/kg/day could be as effective, with the added benefit of reduced side effects and recurrences.19
Invasive treatment. Pericardiocentesis and/or pericardiectomy should be considered when pericarditis is complicated by a large effusion or tamponade, constrictive physiology, or recurrent effusion.11 Pericardiocentesis is the least invasive option and helps provide immediate relief in cases of tamponade or large symptomatic effusions. It is the preferred modality for obtaining pericardial fluid for diagnostic analysis. However, effusions can recur and in those cases pericardial window is preferred, as it provides continued outflow of pericardial fluid. Pericardiectomy is recommended in cases of symptomatic constrictive pericarditis unresponsive to medical therapy.15
Back to the Case
The patient’s presentation—prodrome followed by fever and pleuritic chest pain—is characteristic of acute idiopathic pericarditis. No pericardial rub was heard, but EKG findings were typical. Troponin I elevation suggested underlying myopericarditis. An echocardiogram was unremarkable. Given the likely viral or idiopathic etiology, no further diagnostic tests were ordered to explore the possibility of an underlying systemic illness.
The patient was started on ibuprofen 600 mg every eight hours. She had significant relief of her symptoms within two days. A routine fever workup was negative. She was discharged the following day.
The patient was readmitted three months later with recurrent pleuritic chest pain, which did not improve with resumption of NSAID therapy. Initial troponin I was 0.22 ng/ml, electrocardiogram was unchanged, and an echocardiogram showed small effusion. She was started on ibuprofen 800 mg every eight hours, as well as colchicine 0.6 mg twice daily. Her symptoms resolved the next day and she was discharged with prescriptions for ibuprofen and colchicine. She was instructed to follow up with a primary-care doctor in one week.