What is Cardiac Tamponade?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Cardiac tamponade is a very serious complication of pericardial effusion, a medical condition in which the sac which surrounds the heart becomes filled with fluid. This fluid buildup puts pressure on the heart, making it difficult for the ventricles of the heart to fill with blood and resulting in cardiac tamponade. Patients with this condition will die if they are not treated, and the treatment needs to take place in a hospital environment.

The heart is surrounded with a tough wall of fibrous tissue known as the pericardial sac. When fluid starts to fill the sac, it puts pressure on the heart, preventing the ventricles from fully expanding. The pericardial sac usually cannot expand to accommodate the fluid buildup because the tissue is so fibrous, although some patients with chronic conditions which cause pericardial effusion may develop an enlarged sac as a result of the slow accumulation of fluid over time.

In a patient with cardiac tamponade, the heart experiences reduced stroke volume, which means that less blood is getting out into the body each time the heart pumps. This results in decreased oxygenation. The patient may have a very labored or rapid pulse, and symptoms such as chest pain, pale skin, anxiety, and extreme discomfort can be observed in the patient.


It can be challenging to diagnose cardiac tamponade, as no one medical test will reveal or rule out the condition. Blood tests can be used to learn more about the dissolved oxygen levels in the blood, and echocardiograms and other medical imaging studies can reveal abnormalities which suggest cardiac tamponade. If the patient is at risk for the condition, doctors may use the combination of symptoms and suggestive test results to recommend treatment for cardiac tamponade.

This condition is associated with chest trauma, hypothyroidism, and some types of heart events such as myocardial infarctions. The treatment involves the aspiration of the fluid with a needle inserted into the pericardial sac, and treatment to address the underlying cause of the pericardial effusion to reduce the risk of developing cardiac tamponade again.

It can be difficult to predict when a patient will develop this condition,and it is impossible to prevent cardiac tamponade. Patients with heart conditions can keep an eye on their heart function to detect the early signs, and medical care providers also tend to pay close attention to patients who are at risk so that interventions can be provided promptly.



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