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.
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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 injuryRuptured heart muscleCancer in or near the heart
Symptoms vary from mild to severe. They typically include one or more of the following: Fatigue or drowsinessShortness of breath, rapid breathing, or difficulty breathingLightheadedness
That extends to the neck, shoulders, or abdomenSharp or stabbing painPain that is worsened by coughing or deep breathingDiscomfort that can be relieved by sitting upright or leaning forwardSwelling of the abdomen, veins in the arms or legs, or other areasPale skin, or skin that is blue- or gray-tintedRapid heartbeatAnxiety
FaintingFeeling of weaknessGeneral discomfort
Cardiac tamponade is a serious condition. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate hospitalization and treatment.
Treatments are given to: Save the person's lifeImprove heart functionRelieve symptoms
Treatments that are given for cardiac tamponade include: Pericardiocentesis—a procedure to drain the fluid around the heart
Fluids to maintain normal blood pressureAntibiotics to fight bacterial infectionMedications to help increase blood pressure to normal levelsOxygen to reduce workload on the heartSurgery to remove or cut part of the pericardium
There are no current guidelines to prevent cardiac tamponade.
Braverman A, Sundaresan S. Cardiac tamponade and severe ventricular dysfunction.
Ann Intern Med. 1994;120(5):442.
Explore pericarditis. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/peri. Accessed January 23, 2013.
Pericardial effusion. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 15, 2010. Accessed January 23, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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