What is pericardial effusion?

Updated: Nov 28, 2018
  • Author: William J Strimel, DO, FACP; Chief Editor: Terrence X O'Brien, MD, MS, FACC  more...
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Answer

Pericardial effusion is the presence of an abnormal amount of and/or an abnormal character to fluid in the pericardial space. It can be caused by a variety of local and systemic disorders, or it may be idiopathic. (See Etiology.)

Pericardial effusions can be acute or chronic, and the time course of development has a great impact on the patient's symptoms. Treatment varies, and is directed at removal of the pericardial fluid and alleviation of the underlying cause, which usually is determined by a combination of fluid analysis and correlation with comorbid illnesses (see the image below). (See Presentation, Workup, Treatment, and Medication.)

This image is from a patient with malignant perica This image is from a patient with malignant pericardial effusion. Note the "water-bottle" appearance of the cardiac silhouette in the anteroposterior (AP) chest film.

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