Over eight years, 58 rural Nigerians with pericarditis were treated surgically in Zaria using basic surgical facilities. Eighteen patients had purulent pericarditis, associated with staphylococcal pneumonia in children, or pneumococcal pneumonia in adults. Treatment with antibiotics and prompt pericardiectomy appeared to be superior to drainage, since a quarter of those initially treated with surgical drainage developed early constriction and required pericardiectomy soon after. Thirteen patients had chronic pericardial effusions, of whom one had epicardial constriction and two had cardiomyopathy. Twenty-seven patients had chronic constrictive pericarditis but tuberculosis was confirmed histologically in three only. Echocardiographic findings remained unchanged in five patients evaluated before and after pericardiectomy. Eight of the 13 patients who died had already developed myocardial or hepatic insufficiency before operation, because of late presentation or diagnosis. Greater awareness of the significance of precordial pain in this rural population where ischaemic heart disease is rare would help in making an earlier diagnosis.
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