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Cardiac Tamponade

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is cardiac tamponade?

Cardiac tamponade occurs when too much fluid collects in the pericardium (the sac around your heart). The fluid may collect slowly or quickly, and puts pressure on your heart. This makes it difficult for your heart to pump. Cardiac tamponade can be life-threatening.

What increases my risk for cardiac tamponade?

  • Infection or inflammation
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Lymphoma, breast cancer, or lung cancer
  • Recent heart or abdominal surgery
  • Recent heart attack
  • Kidney failure

What are the signs and symptoms of cardiac tamponade?

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pounding or racing heartbeat
  • Bulging veins in your neck, head, or temples
  • Weakness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Nausea or abdominal pain

How is cardiac tamponade diagnosed?

  • Blood tests are done to find the cause of your symptoms. They are also used to check for infection or get information about your overall health.
  • An EKG test records your heart rhythm and how fast your heart beats. It is used to check the electrical activity of your heart to see if it is damaged.
  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. Sound waves are used to check for fluid around your heart.
  • An x-ray, CT scan, or MRI help show if there is fluid around your heart. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Pulmonary artery catheterization measures the pressure in your pulmonary arteries. It shows how well your heart is working.

How is cardiac tamponade treated?

Treatment is based on how severe your symptoms are and what is causing the cardiac tamponade. You may need any of the following:

  • Pericardial drainage relieves pressure on your heart so it can pump normally. A catheter is inserted into the pericardium to drain fluid.
  • IV fluids are given to help increase fluids in your body and help your heart pump blood.
  • Medicines help your heart pump and improve blood flow to your body.
  • Surgery may be needed to relieve pressure on your heart. An incision is made into your chest and into the pericardium to drain fluid.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have swelling in your ankles, legs, or abdomen.
  • You have bulging veins in your neck, head, or temples.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have sudden chest pain.
  • You have sudden difficulty breathing.
  • Your heart is pounding or racing.

Care Agreement

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