Pericardial Effusion

Pericardial Effusion

What is it

Pericardial effusion is the accumulation of excess fluid around the heart. When the volume of fluid exceeds the pericardium’s maximum level, pericardial effusion puts pressure on the heart causing it to function poorly.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Pericardial effusion may occur when the flow of pericardial fluids is blocked or when blood accumulates in the pericardium. The cause may be a response to a disease, injury or an inflammatory disorder or the other conditions including:

  • Pericarditis disease
  • Dressler’s Syndrome
  • Viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection
  • Trauma or puncture wound near the heart
  • Accumulation of blood after surgery
  • Autoimmune disease such as lupus
  • Kidney failure
  • Cancer of the pericardium or heart
  • Radiation therapy for cancer if the heart is in radiated area
  • Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
  • Spread of cancer (metastasis)
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Medicines

Pericardial effusion is often linked to chronic pericarditis. No signs or symptoms may occur if the fluid has increased slowly. Pericardial effusion symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain behind the breastbone or left side of chest
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Painful breathing when lying down or breathing deeply
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sense of feeling sick
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Faint
  • Dizzy
  • Rapid heart beat

When pericardial effusion puts pressure on the heart, and when too much fluid collects in the pericardium, a condition called cardiac tamponade can develop. This condition can cause a drastic drop in blood pressure due to excess fluid on the heart and can be fatal.

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Diagnostic testing and procedures are the first step in establishing a treatment strategy. A doctor may order tests or perform the following procedures:

Treatment of pericardial effusion depends on how much fluid has accumulated, what is causing the effusion, or if it has caused, or there is a threat of, cardiac tamponade. If the underlying cause is treatable, it often corrects the problem. Otherwise, the following medicines or procedures may be used:

  • Aspirin
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Corticosteroid medicine such as prednilisone
  • Pericardiocentis (procedure to remove and drain excess fluid from the pericardial area)
  • Open heart surgery
  • Intrapericardial sclerosis
  • Pericardiectomy (procedure to remover all or a portion of the pericardium)
St. Luke's Heart & Vascular