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Cardiac tamponade
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Cardiac tamponade

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Tamponade; Pericardial tamponade

Cardiac tamponade is pressure on the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the heart muscle (myocardium) and the outer covering sac of the heart (pericardium).

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  • Causes

    In this condition, blood or fluid collects in the pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart. This prevents the heart ventricles from expanding fully. The excess pressure from the fluid prevents the heart from working properly. As a result, the body does not get enough blood.

    Cardiac tamponade can occur due to:

    • Dissecting aortic aneurysm (thoracic)
    • End-stage lung cancer
    • Heart attack (acute MI)
    • Heart surgery
    • Pericarditis caused by bacterial or viral infections
    • Wounds to the heart

    Other possible causes include:

    • Heart tumors
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Kidney failure
    • Leukemia
    • Placement of central lines
    • Radiation therapy to the chest
    • Recent invasive heart procedures
    • Recent open heart surgery
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus

    Cardiac tamponade occurs in about 2 out of 10,000 people due to disease.

  • Symptoms


    • Anxiety, restlessness
    • Sharp chest pain that is felt in the neck, shoulder, back, or abdomen
    • Chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing
    • Problems breathing
    • Discomfort, sometimes relieved by sitting upright or leaning forward
    • Fainting, light-headedness
    • Pale, gray, or blue skin
    • Palpitations
    • Rapid breathing
    • Swelling of the abdomen or other areas

    Other symptoms that may occur with this disorder:

    • Dizziness
    • Drowsiness
    • Weak or absent pulse
  • Exams and Tests

    There are no specific laboratory tests that diagnose tamponade. Echocardiogram is very often used to help make the diagnosis. This test may be done at the bedside in emergency cases.

    A physical exam may show:

    • Blood pressure that falls (pulsus paradoxical) when breathing deeply
    • Rapid breathing
    • Heart rate over 100 (normal is 60 to 100 beats per minute)
    • Heart sounds are only faintly heard through a stethoscope
    • Neck veins that may be bulging (distended) but the blood pressure is low
    • Weak or absent peripheral pulses

    Other tests may include:

    • Chest CT or MRI of chest
    • Chest x-ray
    • Coronary angiography
    • ECG
    • Right heart catheterization
  • Treatment

    Cardiac tamponade is an emergency condition that needs to be treated in the hospital.

    The fluid around the heart must be drained as quickly as possible. Pericardiocentesis is a procedure that uses a needle to remove fluid from the tissue that surrounds the heart (pericardial sac).

    A surgical procedure to cut and remove part of the pericardium may also be done. This is known as surgical pericardiectomy or pericardial window.

    Fluids are given to keep blood pressure normal until the fluid can be drained from around the heart. Medicines that increase blood pressure may also help keep the person alive until the fluid is drained.

    Oxygen may be given to help reduce the workload on the heart by decreasing tissue demands for blood flow.

    The cause of tamponade must be found and treated.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)

    Cardiac tamponade is a medical emergency. If the fluid or blood is not quickly removed from the pericardium, death can occur quickly.

    The outcome is often good if the condition is treated promptly. However, tamponade may come back.

  • Possible Complications

    • Heart failure
    • Pulmonary edema
    • Shock
    • Death
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms develop. Cardiac tamponade is an emergency condition that needs immediate medical attention.

  • Prevention

    Many cases are not preventable. Knowing your personal risk factors may help you get early diagnosis and treatment.

Related Information

  PericarditisAortic dissection...Heart attackAcute kidney failu...Radiation therapy...HypothyroidismSystemic lupus ery...Heart Failure Over...Pulmonary edema     Heart attack and a...HypothyroidismSystemic lupus ery...

References

LeWinter MM, Tischler MD. Pericardial diseases. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadlephia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 75.

Little WC, Oh JK. Pericardial diseases. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 77.

Mallemat HA,l Tewelde SZ. Pericardiocentesis. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2013:chap 16.

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Review Date: 6/2/2014  

Reviewed By: Norman S. Kato, MD, Surgeon with the Cardiac Care Medical Group, Encino, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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