COVID-19 can trigger pericarditis, a type of heart inflammation, but this is quite rare. Symptoms include chest pain that comes on quickly or worsens when you breathe deeply or lie down.

Pericarditis is when the fluid-filled sac that surrounds your heart becomes inflamed. This sac is called the pericardium. It helps protect your heart and hold it in place.

There are several potential causes of pericarditis. One is a viral infection.

SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is one of the viruses that can trigger pericarditis. Keep reading to learn more.

Discover more about pericarditis.

In rare circumstances, it’s possible for COVID-19 to cause pericarditis. This usually occurs by:

  • direct infection of heart tissue
  • the effects of the body’s immune response to the coronavirus
  • both of the above causes

Sometimes, pericarditis can occur with myocarditis, another type of heart inflammation, in people with COVID-19. This is called myopericarditis.

Cases of myocarditis and pericarditis have been reported for all variants of the coronavirus so far.

However, information on COVID-19-associated pericarditis and its incidence is lacking compared with myocarditis.

For reference, a 2021 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that myocarditis occurred in 150 per 100,000 people with COVID-19 compared with 9 per 100,000 people without COVID-19 from March 2020 to January 2021.

A 2023 review of research notes that symptoms of COVID-19-associated pericarditis are similar to those of other forms of viral pericarditis.

The symptoms of pericarditis include:

When to seek medical help

Pericarditis can feel like a heart attack. If you have chest pain, especially if it comes on suddenly and doesn’t go away, seek immediate medical attention or call 911.

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Pericarditis can happen while you’re sick with COVID-19 or after you recover.

One 2021 review reports that a diagnosis of pericarditis occurred anywhere from 5–56 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Some studies published in 2021, 2022, and 2023 have also reported pericarditis as a finding in people with long COVID.

Long COVID is a collection of health problems that persist in the weeks, months, or years after you recover from COVID-19.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, pericarditis most often affects:

  • young adults, although middle-aged adults are also commonly affected
  • males, with frequent reports occurring in males under age 50
  • people with certain rare genetic conditions

Having risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get pericarditis. Instead, it means you have an increased risk compared with people who don’t have risk factors.

Rest and medications that reduce pain and inflammation are typical treatments for pericarditis.

The medications a doctor may prescribe for pericarditis include:

According to studies from 2021 and 2022, the same types of medication can often treat COVID-19-associated pericarditis.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines can rarely trigger pericarditis, according to research from 2022. The exact mechanism behind this is unknown but has to do with the immune response to the vaccine in some people, notes a 2023 review.

According to the CDC, adolescent and young adult males are most likely affected. Pericarditis usually develops within a week of vaccination. Those who receive care generally recover quickly.

As mentioned earlier, pericarditis after receiving the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is rare. One 2022 study found that, in people ages 5–39 years, the likelihood of myocarditis or pericarditis in the 7 days after vaccination was:

  • 1 in 200,000 doses after the first dose
  • 1 in 30,000 doses after the second dose
  • 1 in 50,000 after the first booster dose

The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the risks

Overall, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the risks of pericarditis.

In fact, researchers have found you’re actually more likely to develop pericarditis after getting COVID-19 than after getting vaccinated.

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COVID-19 can trigger pericarditis in some people. However, it’s not very common. The symptoms of COVID-19-associated pericarditis are similar to those of pericarditis caused by other viruses.

While pericarditis can affect anyone, the people who most often develop it are younger and male. Rest and medications can typically treat it and ease inflammation and pain.

In rare cases, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines may trigger pericarditis. However, it’s more likely that you’ll develop pericarditis from COVID-19 than from COVID-19 vaccination. Overall, the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines outweigh their risks.