Bacterial pericarditis: diagnosis and management

Am J Cardiovasc Drugs. 2005;5(2):103-12. doi: 10.2165/00129784-200505020-00004.


Bacterial pericarditis occurs by direct infection during trauma, thoracic surgery, or catheter drainage, by spread from an intrathoracic, myocardial, or subdiaphragmatic focus, and by hematogenous dissemination. The frequent causes are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus (rheumatic pancarditis), Haemophilus, and M. tuberculosis. In AIDS pericarditis, the incidence of bacterial infection is much higher than in the general population, with a high proportion of Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare infection. Purulent pericarditis is the most serious manifestation of bacterial pericarditis, characterized by gross pus in the pericardium or microscopically purulent effusion. It is an acute, fulminant illness with fever in virtually all patients. Chest pain is uncommon. Purulent pericarditis is always fatal if untreated. The mortality rate in treated patients is 40%, and death is mostly due to cardiac tamponade, systemic toxicity, cardiac decompensation, and constriction. Tuberculous infection may present as acute pericarditis, cardiac tamponade, silent (often large) relapsing pericardial effusion, effusive-constrictive pericarditis, toxic symptoms with persistent fever, and acute, subacute, or chronic constriction. The mortality in untreated patients approaches 85%. Urgent pericardial drainage, combined with intravenous antibacterial therapy (e.g. vancomycin 1g twice daily, ceftriaxone 1-2g twice daily, and ciprofloxacin 400 mg/day) is mandatory in purulent pericarditis. Irrigation with urokinase or streptokinase, using large catheters, may liquify the purulent exudate, but open surgical drainage is preferable. The initial treatment of tuberculous pericarditis should include isoniazid 300 mg/day, rifampin 600 mg/day, pyrazinamide 15-30 mg/kg/day, and ethambutol 15-25 mg/kg/day. Prednisone 1-2 mg/kg/day is given for 5-7 days and progressively reduced to discontinuation in 6-8 weeks. Drug sensitivity testing is essential. Pericardiectomy is reserved for recurrent effusions or continued elevation of central venous pressure after 4-6 weeks of antituberculous and corticosteroid therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis*
  • Bacterial Infections / therapy*
  • Drainage / methods
  • Humans
  • Pericardiectomy / methods
  • Pericarditis / diagnosis*
  • Pericarditis / microbiology
  • Pericarditis / therapy*
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / methods


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents