Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pericarditis that goes on and on

Last month, I was diagnosed with pericarditis, inflammation of a sac that surrounds the heart. It's usually caused by a viral infection, and resolves as the immune system clears the virus. But weeks went by, and I continued to have wandering pains all over my upper torso (mild, fortunately), pressure in my chest when lying down (especially on my back), and noticed that sometimes my resting heart rate was as high as 120 beats per minute. I worried I had one of the less common causes, such as an autoimmune disease.

When I had the chest pressure while standing up Friday morning (probably for just fifteen minutes, but it seemed like a long time), I made an appointment to go back to my doctor. The nurse did a double-take when reading my heart rate between 111 and 118 beats per minute, but I was relieved they'd be able to examine me while I had that symptom. The doctor listened to my heart and lungs, did an EKG, and thinks I'm fine. No signs of arrhythmia or fibrillation, and the "rub" sound in my heartbeat has not returned. He showed me the difference in my EKG from four weeks ago, how that one had been abnormal and yesterday it was normal.

He said I may continue to have these symptoms for two or three more months. Even though the virus is probably long gone (my symptoms of infection - fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, fever and chills - all cleared up a few weeks ago), when the pericardium was infected its surfaces became rough. Every time my heart beats, the layers of the pericardium rub against each other: because they are rough, they irritate each other. This self-perpetuating irritation can take a long time to clear up. He would be worried and do more tests if I got worse, but just being sick for many weeks is normal.

He also commented on how cool my heart had sounded when it had the "rub" sound. He'd had his nurse listen to it because it was so interesting. I had asked to listen to it also, and I agree it was pretty cool sounding. I'm glad it's gone, though. I left his office feeling reassured. And after ten days of wheat-free obviously not helping anything, I had a sandwich from Quiznos for dinner. Yum.

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