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If you experience shortness of breath and fatigue with a low-grade fever and dry cough, call your WellStar physician. If you experience severe chest pain – a common symptom of pericardial effusion but also of a heart attack – go to the emergency room immediately.

Pericardial Effusion Disease Overview

Pericardial effusion describes the excessive collection of fluid within the two layers of the pericardium, the thin membrane surrounding the heart. When the fluid volume exceeds normal “full” levels, poor heart function can result because of the pressure. If the build-up is rapid, it can further lead to cardiac tamponade, a potentially life-threatening condition that impairs heart functions and requires emergency medical treatment.

Pericardial effusion is often associated with pericarditis, the inflammation of the pericardium. But pericardial effusion can occur without inflammation, resulting instead from the accumulation of blood after a surgical procedure or injury.

Other possible causes include:

  • Viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • Kidney failure
  • Cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the pericardium
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)


Many patients with pericardial effusion do not feel symptoms in the early stages and may not see any signs of the condition until a considerable amount of fluid has collected within the pericardium. If symptoms do occur, they may result from compression on surrounding organs. These include:

  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Shortness of breath or painful breathing even with limited activity
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat or pulse
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or abdominal fullness
  • Fever

Symptoms showing that pericardial effusion may be developing into cardiac tamponade – a severe compression of the heart that requires immediate medical attention – include:

  • Blue tinge to the lips and skin
  • Rapid and faint pulse, and rapid breathing at rest
  • Shock
  • Change in mental status

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