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Pericardial effusion is a buildup of too much fluid in the sac around your heart. This sac is called the pericardium. Normally, there is a small amount of fluid between this sac and your heart. This fluid surrounds and helps cushion your heart.
Extra fluid can be caused by many things, including pericarditis (inflammation of the sac), heart attack, surgery, kidney failure, infection, some cancers, and certain diseases such as lupus. Sometimes the cause is not known.
How long it takes for the amount of fluid in your pericardium to get back to normal will depend on what caused the extra fluid and what treatment you have.
If a lot of fluid builds up quickly, it can cause increased pressure on your heart. This pressure is called cardiac tamponade. It is an emergency that can reduce the heart's ability to pump blood.
In some people, pericardial effusion comes back and must be treated again.
Symptoms depend on how much fluid there is and how fast the fluid builds up.
Symptoms may include:
Some people have no symptoms.
You will have an echocardiogram ("echo"). This is a test that lets your doctor see how much fluid is in your pericardium and how your heart is working. You also may have tests such as a chest X-ray, EKG, or CT scan.
Your doctor may want to take a small sample of the fluid around your heart for testing. This may help find the cause of the extra fluid.
If there is only a small amount of extra fluid in your pericardium, you may not need treatment. The extra fluid may go away on its own.
Treatment depends on the cause of the extra fluid, the amount of fluid, and your symptoms. Options include:
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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Current as of: July 22, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & David C. Stuesse MD - Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery
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