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Cardiac tamponade

Contents of this page:


Heart, front view
Heart, front view
Cardiac tamponade
Cardiac tamponade

Alternative Names    Return to top

Tamponade; Pericardial tamponade

Definition    Return to top

Cardiac tamponade is the compression of the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the myocardium (the muscle of the heart) and the pericardium (the outer covering sac of the heart).

Causes    Return to top

In this condition, blood or fluid collects within the pericardium. This prevents the ventricles from expanding fully. They cannot fill enough or pump blood.

Cardiac tamponade can occur due to:

Other potential causes include:

Cardiac tamponade occurs in approximately 2 out of 10,000 people.

Symptoms    Return to top

Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

There are no specific laboratory tests that diagnose tamponade. Echocardiogram is the first choice to help establish the diagnosis.


Other tests may include:

Treatment    Return to top

Cardiac tamponade is an emergency condition that requires hospitalization. The purpose of treatment is to:

Treatment usually involves a procedure to drain the fluid around the heart (pericardiocentesis) or to cut and remove part of the pericardium (surgical pericardiectomy or pericardial window).

Fluids are given to maintain normal blood pressure until pericardiocentesis can be performed. Medications that increase blood pressure may also help sustain the patient's life until the fluid is drained.

The patient may be given oxygen. This reduces the workload on the heart by decreasing tissue demands for blood flow.

The cause of the tamponade must be identified and treated. Treatment of the cause may include medications such as antibiotics, and surgery to repair the injury.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Tamponade is life-threatening if untreated. The outcome is often good if the condition is treated promptly, but tamponade may recur.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms develop. Cardiac tamponade is an emergency condition requiring immediate attention.

Prevention    Return to top

Many cases are not preventable. Awareness of your personal risk factors may allow early diagnosis and treatment.

Update Date: 5/15/2008

Updated by: Robert A. Cowles, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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