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Dressler's syndrome

Dressler's syndrome is a type of pericarditis, inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericardium). Inflammation associated with Dressler's syndrome is believed to be an immune system response following damage to heart tissue or the pericardium, such as a heart attack, surgery or traumatic injury.

Dressler's syndrome symptoms include chest pain, much like that experienced during a heart attack, and fever.

With recent improvements in heart attack treatment, Dressler's syndrome is less common than it used to be. However, once you've had this condition, it may happen again.

Dressler's syndrome may also be called postpericardiotomy, post-myocardial infarction syndrome and post-cardiac injury syndrome.

Symptoms Causes Complications Prevention

Symptoms are likely to appear weeks to months after a heart attack, surgery or other heart injury. Dressler's syndrome symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fever

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you experience any chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes. Other complications following a heart attack, surgery or other heart injury can cause symptoms of Dressler's syndrome. But chest pain may indicate a recurring heart attack or other undiagnosed disorder. That's why it's important to seek emergency care for any persistent chest pain.

Dressler's syndrome is thought to be related to an immune system response to heart tissue damage, such as from a heart attack or heart surgery. Your body reacts to the injured tissue as it would to any injury, by sending immune cells and proteins called antibodies to clean up and repair the affected area. But sometimes this response causes excessive inflammation in the sac enveloping the heart (pericardium).

Two rare but serious complications of Dressler's syndrome include the following conditions:

  • Cardiac tamponade. Inflammation associated with Dressler's syndrome may result in the accumulation of fluids within the pericardium (pericardial effusion). If too much fluid builds up, pressure on the heart forces it to work harder and reduces its ability to pump blood efficiently. This condition is called cardiac tamponade.
  • Constrictive pericarditis. This condition develops when recurring or chronic inflammation of the pericardium causes the sac to become thick or scarred. This condition makes the heart work harder.

Related disorders

The immune system response that leads to Dressler's syndrome may also contribute to accompanying conditions:

  • Pleurisy, inflammation of the membranes (pleura) around your lungs
  • Pleural effusion, a buildup of pleural fluid around your lungs

Although its use is still being debated among heart experts, some doctors may prescribe colchicine after heart surgery to prevent Dressler's syndrome.

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