Dressler’s syndrome is a kind of pericarditis, or inflammation of the sac around the outside of your heart. A heart attack or other type of heart damage may set off an immune system reaction that leads to Dressler’s syndrome. Medicine usually provides good results, but quick treatment is important. It takes several weeks to recover.
Dressler’s syndrome is a form of pericarditis, or inflammation of the pericardium, a tough elastic sac that surrounds your heart. This may happen when your immune system reacts after some type of damage to your heart.
When your pericardium becomes inflamed, it can rub against your heart and cause chest pain. Excess fluid can also build up between your pericardium’s two layers. This puts pressure on your heart.
Dressler’s syndrome can happen after:
Dressler’s syndrome usually occurs within one to six weeks after heart surgery or a heart attack, but it can take up to several months for symptoms to develop.
Other names for Dressler’s syndrome include:
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Dressler’s syndrome can happen in people of any age or race, but it appears to be more common in people who are 20 to 50 years old.
Risk factors that make you more likely to get Dressler’s syndrome include:
Dressler’s syndrome is rare, possibly because of medical advances in treating heart attacks. Only 0.1% of people who have a heart attack get Dressler’s syndrome.
Symptoms of Dressler’s syndrome may include:
Rarely, Dressler’s syndrome symptoms can be life-threatening. It’s important to seek medical treatment if you experience chest pain and have trouble breathing, especially if you’ve recently been in the hospital for heart issues.
Healthcare experts don’t know the exact cause of Dressler’s syndrome. They believe it’s the result of an immune system response following injury or damage to the cells of your heart or pericardium.
Possible Dressler’s syndrome causes include:
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history, including any type of heart condition you may have. You should tell your provider if you’ve had any:
Your healthcare provider may order tests to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms. They’ll make a diagnosis of Dressler’s syndrome based on the combination of:
If your provider thinks you may have Dressler’s syndrome, you’ll need to have further testing. These tests may include:
Your provider also may want to send a sample of your pericardial fluid to the lab.
Your healthcare provider can treat Dressler’s syndrome with medications.
Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce your pain and inflammation. The main treatment is usually either aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. It’s common for your provider to choose one of these dosing schedules:
You’ll take less medicine every week as your pericarditis symptoms get better. You’ll take medication for four to six weeks.
If you can’t take aspirin or NSAIDs or they aren’t working, your provider may prescribe:
You may need surgery if:
If you have a bad case of Dressler’s syndrome, your healthcare provider may do a surgical procedure called a pericardiocentesis. They’ll use a needle to drain fluid from your pericardium. You’ll have a catheter that drains fluid for a day or two, and you'll keep taking medicine, too.
The risk of pericardiocentesis complications ranges from 4% to 20%, with major complications happening 1% to 2% of the time.
Complications of a pericardiocentesis may include:
Total treatment time is typically four to six weeks. Usually, you don’t need an overnight stay when you get Dressler’s syndrome treatment.
Rarely, complications associated with Dressler’s syndrome can be life-threatening. That’s why it’s important to seek prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Rare complications may include:
It may take two to four weeks to recover, but you’ll need to take medicine for four to six weeks.
With early diagnosis and treatment, your prognosis is good. However, for 10% to 15% of people, Dressler’s syndrome will come back. After treatment, you should follow up with your healthcare provider and have periodic tests and exams.
Continue taking the recommended doses of the medicines your healthcare provider prescribed for you. You should also have a follow-up appointment with a cardiologist.
Contact your provider right away if you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Although you may not have planned to deal with another heart problem while recovering from a heart procedure or heart attack, the outlook for Dressler’s syndrome is good with prompt treatment. Be sure to keep taking the medicines your healthcare provider prescribed and follow the instructions they gave you. It’s also important to go to your follow-up appointments.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/10/2022.
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