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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 a respiratory infection. 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
  • Injuries from accidents or radiation therapy
  • 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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Last Updated: September 26, 2012