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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Cardiac tamponade

Tamponade; Pericardial tamponade

Last reviewed: June 2, 2014.

Cardiac tamponade is pressure on the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the heart muscle (myocardium) and the outer covering sac of the heart (pericardium).

Causes

In this condition, blood or fluid collects in the pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart. This prevents the heart ventricles from expanding fully. The excess pressure from the fluid prevents the heart from working properly. As a result, the body does not get enough blood.

Cardiac tamponade can occur due to:

Other possible causes include:

Cardiac tamponade occurs in about 2 out of 10,000 people due to disease.

Symptoms

Other symptoms that may occur with this disorder:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak or absent pulse

Exams and Tests

There are no specific laboratory tests that diagnose tamponade. Echocardiogram is very often used to help make the diagnosis. This test may be done at the bedside in emergency cases.

A physical exam may show:

  • Blood pressure that falls (pulsus paradoxical) when breathing deeply
  • Rapid breathing
  • Heart rate over 100 (normal is 60 to 100 beats per minute)
  • Heart sounds are only faintly heard through a stethoscope
  • Neck veins that may be bulging (distended) but the blood pressure is low
  • Weak or absent peripheral pulses

Other tests may include:

Treatment

Cardiac tamponade is an emergency condition that needs to be treated in the hospital.

The fluid around the heart must be drained as quickly as possible. Pericardiocentesis is a procedure that uses a needle to remove fluid from the tissue that surrounds the heart (pericardial sac).

A surgical procedure to cut and remove part of the pericardium may also be done. This is known as surgical pericardiectomy or pericardial window.

Fluids are given to keep blood pressure normal until the fluid can be drained from around the heart. Medicines that increase blood pressure may also help keep the person alive until the fluid is drained.

Oxygen may be given to help reduce the workload on the heart by decreasing tissue demands for blood flow.

The cause of tamponade must be found and treated.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Cardiac tamponade is a medical emergency. If the fluid or blood is not quickly removed from the pericardium, death can occur quickly.

The outcome is often good if the condition is treated promptly. However, tamponade may come back.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms develop. Cardiac tamponade is an emergency condition that needs immediate medical attention.

Prevention

Many cases are not preventable. Knowing your personal risk factors may help you get early diagnosis and treatment.

References

  1. 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. Philadlephia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 75.
  2. 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.
  3. Mallemat HA,l Tewelde SZ. Pericardiocentesis. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2013:chap 16.

Review Date: 6/2/2014.

Reviewed by: Norman S. Kato, MD, Surgeon with the Cardiac Care Medical Group, Encino, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Mediastinal chest drain clearance following cardiac surgeryMediastinal chest drain clearance following cardiac surgery
    Chest tubes are required following cardiac surgery to drain blood from around the heart. Blood around the heart can interfere with the function of the heart (cardiac tamponade) and result in more surgery and in extreme cases, death. To prevent chest tubes from blocking and so causing tamponade nurses manipulate them to prevent or remove clots. Manipulation may cause pain and discomfort for cardiac patients and rarely other adverse effects. This review found there was not enough evidence to say if one method of manipulation is better than another, or that manipulation is needed.
See all (4) ...

Figures

  • Heart, front view.
    Pericardium.
    Cardiac tamponade.

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