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What is Pericardial effusion? Causes, diagnose, Treatment

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What is Pericardial effusion? Causes, diagnose, Treatment

The pericardial effusion is a build-up of excess liquid in the space surrounding the heart. This can be formed for many reasons, including injuries, infections, or other medical conditions. Further, rapidly forming the fluid or becoming severe can compress the patient’s heart and lead to a life-threatening illness known as the cardiac tamponade.

What causes pericardial effusion?

It may be due to inflammation of pericarditis after injury or illness. As the sac becomes inflamed, more liquid is produced. The main reason for the inflammation and the effusion it leads to is viral infections. Following is the list of viral infections:

  •  Echovirus.
  •  Cytomegalovirus.
  •  HIV infection.
  • Coxsackieviruses.

Moreover, other medical conditions that can lead to outflow include:

In most cases where no reason for it is found, the healthcare provider may call these idiopathic pericardial effusions.

What are the possible indications of pericardial effusion?

In most cases, the pericardial effusion may not highlight any symptoms or signs that the fluid has increased gradually.

However, if the signs of pericardial effusion occur, they might include the following:

  • Swelling in legs or abdomen.
  • Chest fullness.
  • (Dyspnea) difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Experiencing discomfort in breathing while lying down.
  • Feeling faint or light-headedness.

Furthermore, if it is large, it can cause signs like:

  • Hiccups.
  •  Dysphagia.
  •  Hoarseness or coughing.

How to diagnose pericardial effusion?

The healthcare provider will examine the patient’s health condition and highlight the symptoms of it the patient. If the patient does not experience any symptoms, the healthcare provider will conduct the following examinations for the diagnosis:

1. Imaging tests:

  •  Chest X-ray.
  •  MRI of the heart.
  •  Echocardiogram.
  •  CT scan of the chest.

2. Lab tests:

The lab examination is typically conducted when the healthcare provider has diagnosed pericardial effusion. These lab tests concentrate on searching out why the patient has it. Following are the tests that the healthcare advisor may ask for:

  • Troponin.
  • Complete blood count.
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone.
  • B-type natriuretic peptide.

How is pericardial effusion treated?

Whether it is curable or not highly depends upon how severe they are and why they occur. Small effusions, or those effusions that are not dangerous, mainly don’t require treatment. Large pericardial effusion can lead to cardiac tamponade, which requires immediate treatment.

Treatments include the following:

1. Surgery:

  • Surgery is the best way to extract an excessive amount of fluid inside the pericardium. The surgery can happen in an emergency or be scheduled when an effusion causes indications but is not harmful or slow-growing.

2. (Pericardiocentesis) needle aspiration:

  • In this process, the healthcare provider will numb a specific area on the patient’s chest and utilize imaging instruments like fluoroscopy or echocardiography) for guidance, the surgeon will inject a needle into the patient’s chest until it is perfectly inside the pericardium. After that, the healthcare provider will aspirate the extra liquid inside. Occasionally, a thin, tube-like device is left in the pericardium to drain liquid for some time until it is complete.

In some cases where the effusion is not harmful, there is no need for any treatment, and it can be treated with medications. Moreover, the treatment depends upon the patient’s health condition.

Following is the medication that is used to treat small effusions:

1. Anti-inflammatory medicines:

  • these drugs aid in preventing swelling and inflammation.

2. Antibiotics:

  • these drugs aid in dealing with underlying infections, like tuberculosis, which can lead to effusion and pericarditis.

3. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy:

  • these therapy aids when it is caused because of cancer.

4. Diuretics and other heart failure drugs:

  • these medications are helpful when the patient experiences heart failure because of pericardial effusion.

The possible complications that a patient can encounter from pericardial effusion

The complication of it is the cardiac tamponade. In cardiac tamponade condition, the extra liquid within the pericardium puts pressure on the patient’s heart. Moreover, the cardiac tamponade leads to a deficiency of oxygen in the patient’s body and inadequate blood streaming. This condition can be life-threatening and needs emergency medical treatment.


  • https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/pericardial-effusion retrieved on 20 Oct. 22
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17351-pericardial-effusion retrieved on 20 Oct. 22
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pericardial-effusion/symptoms-causes/syc-20353720#:~:text=Pericardial%20effusion%20(per%2De%2D,a%20thin%20layer%20of%20fluid. Retrieved on 20 Oct. 22

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