Cardiac tamponade occurs when fluid builds up between the heart muscle and the surrounding tissue called the pericardium. This fluid compresses the heart. Because of this, enough blood cannot be pumped in and out of the heart.
This condition can be life-threatening. With proper treatment, the prognosis is good. Cardiac tamponade can return after treatment, though.
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Cardiac tamponade can be caused by a variety of factors and conditions, including:
—an inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart, caused by bacterial or viral infections
- Bleeding into the pericardium, caused by injury
- Ruptured heart muscle
- Cancer in or near the heart
These factors increase your chance of developing this condition. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
Symptoms vary from mild to severe. They typically include one or more of the following:
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Shortness of breath, rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- That extends to the neck, shoulders, or abdomen
- Sharp or stabbing pain
- Pain that is worsened by coughing or deep breathing
- Discomfort that can be relieved by sitting upright or leaning forward
- Swelling of the abdomen, veins in the arms or legs, or other areas
- Pale skin, or skin that is blue- or gray-tinted
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling of weakness
- General discomfort
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If you have a significant change in blood pressure between breaths, this is one way your doctor will diagnose this condition.
- Your doctor may need images of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
- Your doctor may need to test your heart activity. This can be done with:
This is a serious condition. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate hospitalization and treatment.
Treatments are given to:
- Save the patient's life
- Improve heart function
- Relieve symptoms
Treatments that are given for cardiac tamponade include:
—a procedure to drain the fluid around the heart
- Fluids to maintain normal blood pressure
- Medications to help increase blood pressure to normal levels
- Oxygen to reduce workload on the heart
- Surgery to remove or cut part of the pericardium
If you are diagnosed with cardiac tamponade, follow your doctor's
This condition usually cannot be prevented. However, understanding the risk factors can aid in prevention.
American Heart Association
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Braverman A, Sundaresan S. Cardiac tamponade and severe ventricular dysfunction.
Ann Intern Med
. 1994;120:5:442. Available at:
Accessed January 23, 2013.
Cardiac tamponade. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 15, 2010. Accessed January 23, 2013.
What is pericarditis? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/peri/printall-index.html. Accessed January 23, 2013.