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

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.

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Last Reviewed:
October 08, 2016
Last Updated:
August 24, 2017