Facebook Pixel

Cardiac Tamponade: An Overview

By Blogger
Rate This
Cardiac Tamponade related image Photo: Getty Images

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
Because cardiac tamponade is potentially life-threatening, it’s essential that the excessive fluid surrounding the heart be drained. This is accomplished by a procedure known as pericardiocentesis and must be performed in a hospital or similar medical setting.

The procedure involves the insertion of a needle into the sac to drain the fluid. Sometimes, a pericardiectomy may be performed. In this procedure, a portion of the pericardium is removed.

Because cardiac tamponade patients often experience blood pressure which is too low, medication may be prescribed to raise blood pressure levels until the procedure can be performed. In addition, cardiac tamponade patients may be given oxygen to help reduce the demands on the already overtaxed heart.

Cardiac tamponande complications
Cardiac tamponade is life-threatening. Untreated, it can lead to death. Other complications include pulmonary edema and heart failure.

Cardiac tamponade prognosis
If treated, the prognosis is generally favorable. It should be noted that even with treatment, it’s possible for cardiac tamponade to reoccur.

Cardiac tamponade prevention
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to prevent cardiac tamponade. If you have risk factors for conditions that may lead to cardiac tamponade, you should discuss with your physician to determine if your risk is higher than normal. Risk awareness may aid in early diagnosis.


Reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R Eltz. Cardiac tamponade. A.D.A.M Medical Encyclopedia, National Center for Biotechnology. 17 May 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001245/

Pericarditis. The Mayo Clinic. 29 Apr 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pericarditis/DS00505/DSECTION=complications

Reviewed January 25, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Cardiac Tamponade

Get Email Updates

Cardiac Tamponade Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!