A Drowning Heart

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Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012 3:49 pm | Updated: 4:42 pm, Wed Jul 3, 2013.

Often mistaken as a heart attack, it's one of the most misdiagnosed heart problems there is. One in a thousand people will develop it at some point in their life and a lot of times it strikes a person in their 30's or 40's.

The problem causes your heart to literally drown or suffocate to death, but a new "life preserver" is helping.

"The waves were pretty big," says Linda Gould-Faber. During a sailing trip an oar struck Linda smack dab in the middle of her chest. "It hit me right here, full force."

Linda hurt her pericardium. "The skin around the heart that protects the heart from infection," says Allan Klein, MD Cardiologist Cleveland Clinic.

When damaged, fluid can build up between the layers of the pericardium and the heart. "It's one of the worst cardiac pains that you can imagine."

Caused by trauma in Linda's case, viral infections, Arthritis, and Lupus can also put you at risk. Most people with pericarditis think they're having a heart attack. "All of the sudden they can't take a breath, it hurts to breath, they break out in a sweat."

An echocardiogram showed Linda's sac was full of fluid. "Compressing the right ventricle."

Instead of open heart surgery cardiologists performed a minimally invasive partial Pericardiectomy. "Right in the operating room the pressures come down dramatically."

More than 30 ounces of fluid was drained from Linda's pericardium. The surgery cut her recovery time to three weeks compared to two months for open heart surgery. "One of the things that's amazing, I have no restrictions. I can do all sorts of physical activity."

To prove it, Linda climbed a volcano in Hawaii.

The first treatment option for viral pericarditis is anti-inflammatories and occasionally steroids.

Once drugs are no longer effective patients would have to undergo open heart surgery to fix the problem. Without surgery, pericarditis can lead to heart failure.

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