Pericardial effusion and tamponade


An abnormal accumulation of fluid in the pericardial cavity.

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About pericardial effusion

Pericardial effusion is the accumulation of fluid in the double-layered, sack-like structure around your heart. The space between the layers normally contains a very thin layer of fluid. If the pericardium is inflamed or has experienced trauma it can lead to excess fluid. Tamponade is when this fluid build-up affects your normal heart function to such an extent that the fluid needs draining.

Need to know

It is possible to have pericardial effusion or tamponade and not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms they may include:

  • difficulty or laboured breathing (dyspnea)
  • shortness of breath when lying down (orthopnea)
  • chest pain, usually on the left side of your chest or behind your breastbone (sternum)
  • chest tightness or fullness sensation

A large effusion or tamponade can compress the heart and this will require immediate medical attention.

A pericardial effusion will usually be diagnosed by an echocardiogram which uses sound waves to create images of your heart in real time.

Other tests may include a chest X-ray, CT or MRI scan and blood tests.

Your treatment will depend on the amount of fluid that has accumulated in your heart.

Options may include:

  • Medications to reduce the inflammation such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Pericardiocentesis. This is a procedure where the fluid is drained from your heart using the insertion of a needle and a small tube (catheter) to drain the fluid to relieve the pressure.
  • Surgery. This is reserved for the most severe of cases where your consultant determines that it is necessary to drain the liquid and repair any damage.

Our Pericardial effusion and tamponade locations

The Lister Hospital

The Lister Hospital

Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W 8RH London
The Cardiac Clinic

The Cardiac Clinic

London Bridge Hospital SE1 2PR London
London Bridge Hospital

London Bridge Hospital

27 Tooley Street SE1 2PR London

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.