Pericardial Effusion

What is Pericardial Effusion?

Pericardial Effusion occurs when there is too much fluid within the pericardium of the heart. This area normally has some fluid within it, but if the pericardium is injured or diseased, excess fluid could accumulate and place too much pressure upon the heart, adversely affecting its function.

This condition can be caused by a wide range of systemic and local disorders, but it can also be idiopathic.

The pericardium may be able to stretch a bit in order to accommodate excess fluid if the pericardial effusion develops slowly enough. But if it develops too quickly or there is too much fluid, the chambers of the heart can’t fill completely, and this condition is known a tamponade.

What are the Symptoms of Pericardial Effusion?

Symptoms of pericardial effusion include:

  • Hoarseness
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Confusion and anxiety
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain, discomfort, and pressure
  • Light-headedness

Pericardial Effusion Causes

Pericardial effusion or pericarditis has a number of causative factors. With regard to acute pericardial effusion, causes include chest trauma, heart surgery, myocardial infarction, and surgery in the region of heart, or on the heart itself.

There are several conditions that can lead to the development of chronic pericardial effusion. Cancer and cancer metastasis to the chest cavity can cause pericarditis, as well as radiation treatment. Additionally, some chemotherapy regimens can lead to pericardial effusion as a side effect. Pericardial cancer is a causative factor as well.

Also, chronic conditions such as kidney failure can lead to pericardial effusion, due to waste products in the blood. Hypothyroidism has also been implicated as a cause. In addition, some autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis have been noted to cause pericardial effusion.

Infectious agents are also causative factors. Viral infections such as coxsackievirus A and B, some hepatitis infections, and some pneumonias have been associated with pericarditis. Also bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections can cause it as well. Additionally, some prescription drugs can lead to the development of pericardial effusion. These include some medications for hypertension, tuberculosis, and seizures. Also, in some cases, pericardial effusion can be idiopathic, or have an unknown cause.

How is Pericardial Effusion Treated?

The treatment for pericardial effusion depends upon the amount of fluid involved, as well as the cause. If pericardial effusion is not treated promptly and properly, it could result in heart failure or death.

Medications can be administered to control inflammation. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, aspirin, and colchicine.

If your condition is more severe or it doesn’t respond to anti-inflammatory medications, your doctor may recommend draining the fluid, performing open heart surgery, removing the pericardium, or performing a balloon pericardiotomy. Also, tamponade is life-threatening and needs to be treated urgently, as it causes poor circulation and inadequate oxygen supply throughout the body.

Pericardial Fffusion Prevention

Given the multifaceted nature of pericardial effusion, there are some steps that can be taken for its prevention, though in cases of acute pericarditis, prevention is not usually possible. In regard to chronic pericardial effusion, proper management of chronic conditions that can lead to its development is key. Monitoring of prescription medications and proper dosage can help make sure that side effects are minimized.

Additionally, proper surgical aftercare can be very effective in making sure that the risk of developing pericardial effusion is minimized. While acute cases cannot be easily prevented, proper care after trauma the chest is essential in minimizing complications as well.