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Cardiac tamponade is a serious cardiac condition. Potentially life-threatening, it’s caused when the heart becomes compressed and is put under pressure, as a result of fluid buildup in the spaces surrounding the heart muscle, or myocardium, and its outer covering, or pericardium or sac.
As a result, the ventricles become constricted and blood flow is interrupted. Because blood flow becomes restricted, persons with cardiac tamponade may experience sudden drops in blood pressure.
Cardiac tamponade may occur as a result of numerous conditions. In some instances, it may be a complication of pericarditis. Pericarditis is a condition where the pericardium becomes irritated or inflamed which may lead to excessive fluid buildup resulting in cardiac tamponade.
Other conditions such as late stage lung cancer, heart attack, thoracic aneurysms, heart tumors, heart surgery, other types of heart wounds, systemic lupus, radiation therapy, or kidney failure may also lead to the development of cardiac tamponade.
Cardiac tamponade symptoms
Because of the extra pressure that is placed on the heart, symptoms of cardiac tamponade are somewhat similar to symptoms for other cardiac-related conditions.
People with this condition may experience difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, fainting, rapid breathing, dizziness, or drowsiness. Due to the reduced blood flow, the skin may appear pale or have a grey or blueish tint.
Chest pain may be experienced that becomes worse with coughing or deep breaths. The pain is described as “sharp” and “stabbing” and may be located in the back, abdomen, neck or shoulders.
In some cases, the abdomen may experience swelling and neck veins may become distended. People with cardiac tamponade may experience heart palpitations along with general anxiety, low blood pressure, and a weak pulse.
Cardiac tamponade tests
A diagnosis of cardiac tamponade is generally confirmed by an echocardiogram. Other tests that may be used include an ECG, x-ray of the chest, CT, MRI, or coronary angiography.
Cardiac tamponade treatment