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Cardiac tamponade is a serious medical condition in which blood or fluids fill the space between the sac that encases the heart and the heart muscle. This places extreme pressure on your heart. The pressure prevents the heart's ventricles from expanding fully and keeps your heart from functioning properly. Your heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of your body when this happens. This can lead to organ failure, shock, and even death.
Cardiac tamponade is a medical emergency. If you or someone you know begins experiencing symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
Cardiac tamponade is usually the result of penetration of the pericardium, which is the thin, double-walled sac that surrounds your heart. The cavity around your heart can fill with enough blood or other bodily fluids to compress your heart. As the fluid presses on your heart, less and less blood can enter. Less oxygen-rich blood is pumped to the rest of your body as a result. The lack of blood getting to the heart and the rest of your body can eventually cause shock, organ failure, and cardiac arrest.
The causes of pericardial penetration or fluid accumulation might include:
Cardiac tamponade has the following symptoms:
Cardiac tamponade often has three signs your doctor can recognize. These signs are commonly known as Beck’s triad. They include:
Your doctor will conduct further tests to confirm a cardiac tamponade diagnosis. An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of your heart. It can detect whether the pericardium is distended and if the ventricles have collapsed due to low blood volume. Your chest X-rays may show an enlarged, globe-shaped heart if you have cardiac tamponade. Other diagnostic tests may include:
Cardiac tamponade is a medical emergency that requires hospitalization. The treatment of cardiac tamponade has two purposes. It should relieve pressure on your heart and then treat the underlying condition. Initial treatment involves your doctor making sure you’re stabilized.
Your doctor will also drain the fluid from your pericardial sac, typically with a needle. This procedure is called pericardiocentesis. Your doctor may perform a more invasive procedure called a thoracotomy to drain blood or remove blood clots if you have a penetrating wound. They may remove part of your pericardium to help relieve pressure on your heart.
You’ll also receive oxygen, fluids, and medications to increase your blood pressure.
Once the tamponade is under control and your condition stabilizes, your doctor may perform additional tests to determine the underlying cause of your condition.
The long-term outlook depends on how quickly the diagnosis can be made, the underlying cause of the tamponade, and any subsequent complications. Your outlook is fairly good if the cardiac tamponade is quickly diagnosed and treated.
Your long-term outlook greatly depends on how quickly you get treatment. Seek medical treatment immediately if you think you have this condition.
Written by: Janet Barwell and Marijane Leonard
Published on: Jul 25, 2012
Medically reviewed on: Sep 14, 2017: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, MSN, CRNA, COI
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