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What Causes Pericarditis?

In many cases, the cause of pericarditis (both acute and chronic) is unknown.

Viral infections are likely a common cause of pericarditis, although the virus may never be found. Pericarditis often occurs after respiratory infections. Bacterial, fungal, and other infections also can cause pericarditis.

Most cases of chronic, or recurring, pericarditis are thought to be the result of autoimmune disorders. Examples of such disorders include lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

With autoimmune disorders, the body's immune system makes antibodies (proteins) that mistakenly attack the body's tissues or cells.

Other possible causes of pericarditis are:

  • Heart attack and heart surgery
  • Kidney failure, HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, and other health problems
  • Trauma to the chest or prior radiation therapy to the chest
  • Autoimmune diseases, including ulcerative colitis.
  • Certain medicines, like phenytoin (an antiseizure medicine), warfarin and heparin (blood-thinning medicines), and procainamide (a medicine to treat irregular heartbeats
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September 26, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.