Pericardiocentesis

Pericardiocentesis is a procedure that uses a needle to remove fluid from the pericardial sac. This is the tissue that surrounds the heart.

How is the Test Performed?

The procedure is most often done in a special procedure room, such as a cardiac catheterization laboratory. It may also be done at a patient's hospital bedside. A health care provider will put an IV into your arm in case fluids or medicines need to be given through a vein. For example, you may be given medicines if your heartbeat slows or your blood pressure drops during the procedure.

The health care provider will clean an area just below the breastbone or below the left nipple. Numbing medicine (anesthetic) will be applied to the area.

The doctor will then insert a needle and guide it into tissue that surrounds the heart. Often, echocardiography is used to help the doctor see the needle and any fluid drainage. An electrocardiogram (ECG) and x-rays (fluoroscopy) may also be used to help with positioning.

Once the needle has reached the correct area, it is removed and replaced with a tube called a catheter. Fluid drains through this tube into containers. Most of the time, the pericardial catheter is left in place so draining may continue for several hours.

Surgical drainage may be needed if the problem is hard to correct or comes back. This is a more invasive procedure in which the pericardium is drained into the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity. This may need to be done when you are under general anesthesia.

Preparation for the Test

You may not be able to eat or drink for 6 hours before the test. You must sign a consent form.

How the Test will Feel

You may feel pressure as the needle enters. Some people have chest pain, which may require pain medicine.

Why is the Test Performed?

This test may be done to remove and examine fluid that is pressing on the heart. It is most often done to find the cause of a chronic or recurrent pericardial effusion.

It may also be done to treat cardiac tamponade, which is a life-threatening condition.

Normal Results for Pericardiocentesis

There is normally a small amount of clear, straw-colored fluid in the pericardial space.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal findings may indicate the cause of pericardial fluid accumulation, such as:

Pericardiocentesis Risks


  • Bleeding
  • Collapsed lung
  • Heart attack
  • Infection (pericarditis)
  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
  • Puncture of the heart muscle, coronary artery, lung, liver, or stomach
  • Pneumopericardium (air in the pericardial sac)

References

LeWinter MM, Tischler MD. Pericardial diseases. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 75.

Little WC, Oh JK. Pericardial diseases. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 77.

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Review Date: 5/13/2014
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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