Cardiac tamponade is when fluid builds up in the sac around the heart. The fluid puts pressure on the heart. The pressure reduces the amount of blood that is pumped in and out of the heart.
This condition can be life-threatening. It can be treated, but it can return after treatment.
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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
- Certain diseases that cause inflammation, such as: systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Behcet disease, sarcoidosis , scleroderma, and systemic vasculitis
Symptoms vary from mild to severe. They may include:
- 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 areas
- 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 surrounding structures. They may include:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Coronary angiography
The doctor may need to test heart activity with:
- Cardiac catheterization
Diagnosis is usually based on symptoms and confirmed with testing.
Cardiac tamponade is a serious condition. It needs to be treated right away in the hospital.
The goal of treatment is to:
- Ease symptoms
- Improve heart function
- Treat underlying conditions
- Save the person's life
- Pericardiocentesis —a procedure to drain the fluid around the heart
- Fluids to maintain normal blood pressure
- Medicines to:
- Fight infection
- Ease inflammation and pain
- Improve blood pressure and heart function
- Oxygen to reduce workload on the heart
Sometimes there are problems—or not enough fluid can be drained. If so, surgery may be done to remove or cut part of the pericardium.
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.
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a (Tamponade; Pericardial Tamponade)
American Heart Association http://www.heart.org
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca
Cardiac tamponade. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/thoracic-trauma/cardiac-tamponade Accessed July 16, 2021.
Heart Inflammation. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-inflammation . Accessed July 16, 2021.
Pericardial effusion and tamponade. EBSCO DynaMed . Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pericardial-effusion-and-tamponade. Accessed July 16, 2021.
York NL, Kane C, Smith CS. Identification and Management of Acute Cardiac Tamponade. Dimens Crit Care Nurs. 2018;37(3):130-134.