Pericarditis in Children

February 18, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Since we love our children with all of our hearts, everyone always wants their children to have a healthy, happy, and beating heart. When conditions develop that affect a child’s heart health, such as pediatric pericarditis, it can be one of the scariest experiences you can encounter.

It’s natural to want as much information about causes and treatment as possible. While this is a serious condition that requires medical attention, pericarditis is usually treatable in children over a short period of time.

What is Pericarditis?

Pericarditis in children, or pediatric pericarditis, is a heart condition that is caused by inflammation or infection of the thin membrane surrounding the heart, called the pericardium. There is a range of causes for pericarditis in children, and it is often a side-effect of surgery to repair other birth-related heart defects.

If your child or a loved one is dealing with pericarditis, the following information can help you better understand this condition, including treatment and care options.

Pericarditis Risk Factors

Pericarditis is not common, affecting less than .02% of emergency visits for children without prior heart treatment, according to the American College of Cardiology. The single biggest risk factor for a child developing pericarditis is undergoing heart surgery, typically to fix a congenital heart problem. This is known as post cardiotomy syndrome and can occur as a secondary effect of procedures to close atrial holes.

Other risk factors for pericarditis in children include:

  • Viral, fungal, or bacterial infections
  • Having an autoimmune disorder such as Lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Suffering a traumatic injury

Pericarditis Causes

Pericarditis occurs when the fluid between thin layers of the pericardium builds up as a result of inflammation. This can put pressure on the heart and interfere with its ability to function properly.

Pericarditis Symptoms

Dysfunction of the heart due to pericarditis can cause the following symptoms in children:

  • Sharp chest pains, particularly right behind the breastbone and collarbone
  • Difficulty breathing and a shooting pain over the chest while inhaling
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low fever
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms can vary from child to child, so like with any condition, it is critical to seek immediate medical attention if you see any of these signs.

Diagnosing Pericarditis

Doctors examining a child with any of these symptoms will diagnose the cause through a full evaluation that includes the following steps:

  • Review of medical history
  • Listening to the heart through a stethoscope for a specific abnormal heart sound, known as a rub
  • Physical examination
  • Questions about symptoms and behavior
  • Blood tests to detect for possible infection
  • Chest X-ray
  • Magnetic resonance imagery (MRI)
  • Diagnostic heart tests including electrocardiogram and echocardiography which can detect irregular heart function

Pericarditis Treatment Options

Upon diagnosis, children may be referred to a pediatric cardiologist for specialized treatment. Specific treatment is highly dependent on certain factors, including age, overall health, and the extent and cause of the condition. Treatment can range from minor over-the-counter medication while monitoring the condition to surgery in some cases.

The most commonly recommended steps for children with pericarditis include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and pain relievers such as Tylenol
  • Antibiotics if the cause is a bacterial infection
  • Removal of excess fluid through a process called aspiration
  • Surgery in the most serious cases

Pericarditis is generally an acute and treatable condition, but there is a risk for it to return and potentially cause chronic heart problems. One complication is known as pericardial tamponade, which is when the pericardium quickly fills with fluid and disrupts the heart’s ability to properly fill and pump blood.

Caring for a Child with Pericarditis

In cases where long-term care is needed, or if there was surgery required, pediatric home health services can be highly beneficial for families and other caregivers. This is particularly true when pericarditis is a secondary effect of treatment for a congenital heart defect. A specialized pediatric nurse can assist with a wide range of needs, from administering medication to suctioning to accompanying to doctor or specialist appointments.

Care needs can vary from patient to patient and family to family, so it is important to find a service with the qualifications and flexibility to fit your needs.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services in Florida, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.