Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Rheumatic symptoms after cardiac surgery: a prospective study.

British Medical Journal 1988; 297 doi: (Published 02 July 1988) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1988;297:21
  1. K. Walton,
  2. P. J. Holt
  1. Rheumatism Research Centre, Manchester Royal Infirmary.


    The incidence of different types of shoulder pain after open heart surgery was studied prospectively. Of 101 patients studied, 45 developed rheumatic symptoms during the first six weeks after the operation. Thirty eight patients reported pain in the region of the shoulder girdle with no loss of shoulder function (postpericardiotomy rheumatism). Three of these patients also had features compatible with the postpericardiotomy syndrome (fever, malaise, or pleuritic chest pain), and seven developed the syndrome without pain in the shoulder girdle. Of these 10 patients, one had generalised myalgia. Postpericardiotomy rheumatism alone was not associated with increased inflammation (measured by the erythrocyte sedimentation rate and concentration of C reactive protein); immunological tests including measurement of antibodies to cardiac muscle yielded inconclusive results. Replies to a postal questionnaire showed that symptoms of postpericardiotomy rheumatism were present for over three months in 18 patients and for six months or longer in 14. In view of the large number of patients now having open heart surgery postpericardiotomy rheumatism should be considered when patients report pain around the shoulders so that it is not misdiagnosed as angina.