Cardiac Tamponade



Cardiac tamponade can be caused by:

  • An infection that causes pericarditis—swelling of the sac around the heart
  • Bleeding into the heart sac, caused by injury
  • A ruptured heart muscle
  • Cancer in or near the heart

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk of cardiac tamponade are:

  • Heart surgery or injury to the heart
  • Tumors in the heart
  • Heart attack or congestive heart failure
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney failure
  • Radiation therapy to the chest
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Certain diseases that cause swelling, such as:
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Behcet disease
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Scleroderma
  • Systemic vasculitis



Symptoms vary from mild to severe. A person with cardiac tamponade may have:

  • Tiredness or sleepiness
  • Fast breathing or problems breathing
  • Lightheadedness, weakness, or fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Cough, problems swallowing, hoarseness, or hiccups
  • Swelling of the belly, veins in the arms or legs, or other places
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Nausea or lack of hunger


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

  • Imaging tests will be done to check the heart and chest. They may include:
    • Chest x-ray
    • Echocardiogram
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
    • Coronary angiography
  • The doctor may need to test heart activity with:
    • Cardiac catheterization
    • ECG

The symptoms and tests are often enough to confirm that a person has cardiac tamponade.



Cardiac tamponade is a serious problem. It needs to be treated right away in the hospital.

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Ease symptoms
  • Help the heart work better
  • Treat underlying health problems

Treatments include:

  • Pericardiocentesis—a procedure to drain the fluid around the heart
  • Fluids to keep blood pressure normal
  • Medicines to:
    • Fight infection
    • Ease swelling and pain
    • Help blood pressure and the heart work better
  • Oxygen to reduce how hard the heart has to work

Surgery may be needed to remove or cut part of the pericardium if not enough fluid can be drained or there are other problems.


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.