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Pericardial effusion and tamponade

A build up of fluid around your heart, which can affect your heart function

About

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

  • Symptoms of pericardial effusion icon plus

    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.

  • Diagnosis icon plus

    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.
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    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.
Consultant in theatres

Our consultants

From complex surgery to straightforward procedures, we provide exceptional care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

Our facilities

From complex surgery to straightforward procedures, we provide exceptional care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

  • London Bridge Hospital Facility

    London Bridge Hospital

    27 Tooley Street

    London

    SE1 2PR

    Appointments and Enquiries 020 7234 2009
    Imaging Appointments 020 7234 2773
    Switchboard 020 7407 3100

  • Wellington-south-hero-facility-582-582

    The Wellington Hospital

    Wellington Place

    London NW8 9LE

    Appointments 0207 483 5148
    Enquiries 020 3131 7478

  • facility-HSC-flag-hero-582x582

    The Harley Street Clinic

    35 Weymouth Street

    London

    W1G 8BJ

    Appointments 020 7034 8181
    Enquiries 020 3131 7962

Request an appointment

We're happy to help you make an appointment with one of our experienced consultants.

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