Cardiac Tamponade



Cardiac tamponade occurs when fluid builds up between the heart muscle and the surrounding tissue called the pericardium. This fluid compresses the heart. Because of this, enough blood cannot be pumped in and out of the heart.

This condition can be life-threatening. Cardiac tamponade can be treated, but it can return after treatment.

Cardiac Tamponade
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Cardiac tamponade can be caused by a variety of factors and conditions, including:

  • Pericarditis —an inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart, caused by bacterial or viral infections
  • Bleeding into the pericardium, caused by injury
  • Ruptured heart muscle
  • Cancer in or near the heart

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chances of cardiac tamponade:

  • Heart surgery
  • Tumors in the heart
  • Heart attack
  • Injury to the heart
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney failure
  • Radiation therapy to the chest
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus



Symptoms vary from mild to severe. They typically include one or more of the following:

  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Shortness of breath, rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Chest pain:
    • That extends to the neck, shoulders, or abdomen
    • Sharp or stabbing pain
    • Pain that is worsened by coughing or deep breathing
  • Discomfort that can be relieved by sitting upright or leaning forward
  • Swelling of the abdomen, veins in the arms or legs, or other areas
  • Pale skin, or skin that is blue- or gray-tinted
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Fainting
  • Feeling of weakness
  • General discomfort


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If you have a significant change in blood pressure between breaths, this is one way your doctor will diagnose this condition.

  • Imaging tests to evaluate the heart and surrounding structures may include:
    • Chest x-ray
    • Echocardiogram
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
    • Coronary angiography
  • Your doctor may need to test your heart activity. This can be done with:
    • Cardiac catheterization
    • ECG



Cardiac tamponade is a serious condition. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate hospitalization and treatment.

Treatments are given to:

  • Relieve symptoms
  • Improve heart function
  • Save the person's life

Treatments that are given for cardiac tamponade include:

  • Pericardiocentesis —a procedure to drain the fluid around the heart
  • Fluids to maintain normal blood pressure
  • Antibiotics to fight bacterial infection
  • Medications to help increase blood pressure to normal levels
  • Oxygen to reduce workload on the heart
  • Surgery to remove or cut part of the pericardium


There are no current guidelines to prevent cardiac tamponade.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Tamponade; Pericardial Tamponade)


American Heart Association 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 


Health Canada 

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada 


Cardiac tamponade. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated January 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017.

Explore pericarditis. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: Updated September 26, 2012. Accessed November 30, 2017.

Pericardial effusion and tamponade. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  . Updated June 15, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017.