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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:
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:
Symptoms showing that pericardial effusion may be developing into cardiac tamponade—a severe compression of the heart that requires immediate medical attention—include:
Most initial cases of pericardial effusion cannot be prevented. But you can take steps to reduce pericardial effusion from becoming more severe or developing into cardiac tamponade.
You can lower your chances of more severe forms of pericardial effusion by getting prompt treatment, adhering to the plan you and your Wellstar physician devise and continuing medical care.
In diagnosing for pericardial effusion, your Wellstar physician will take a careful medical history and perform a physical examination. With a stethoscope, your physician can listen for a high-pitched, scratchy sound in your heart called a friction rub. If there is a large amount of fluid, your heartbeat may be muffled or sound distant.
Based on the exam, your physician might order some of these tests:
If screening tests are abnormal your Wellstar physician will perform further evaluations regarding pericardial effusion.
Treatment of pericardial effusion depends on the cause as well as the severity of the condition and whether the excess fluid may be rich in protein (exudate) or water (transudate). If there is no immediate threat of cardiac tamponade, a prescription of medication may be sufficient to treat the condition.
Your Wellstar physician may prescribe medication to reduce the inflammation of the pericardium that is contributing to this condition. Some of these medications include aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), colchicines or corticosteroids.
In some cases, your Wellstar physician may recommend more invasive treatments, particularly in instances of cardiac tamponade. Such procedures include:
Wellstar’s world-class, community-based physicians utilize state-of-the-art medical centers and hospitals with the latest technologies and medical resources.
Other clinicians are dedicated to:
Wellstar provides top-flight Cardiac Care throughout its physicians’ offices, urgent care centers and emergency rooms. Emergency departments at Wellstar Cobb, Wellstar Douglas, and Wellstar Kennestone hospitals provide comprehensive cardiac services. Wellstar Cobb and Wellstar Kennestone hospital’s cardiac diagnostic and treatment services provide the next level of defense against heart disease. The technologically advanced Cardiac Center at WellStar Kennestone Hospital and partnership with Emory Healthcare for adult open-heart surgery raises the bar on world-class cardiac care. Wellstar’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Services’ medically supervised programs focus on helping heart disease patients maintain a healthier heart through education and support groups.
Proper care and treatment of pericardial effusion can often improve symptoms and help you live longer. You and your Wellstar physician can work together to make your life more comfortable, so pay close attention to your body and your post-treatment regiment and keep your doctor updated.
As part of your post-treatment care and in addition to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise, you should: