What is the prevalence of pericardial effusion in the US?

Updated: Nov 28, 2018
  • Author: William J Strimel, DO, FACP; Chief Editor: Terrence X O'Brien, MD, MS, FACC  more...
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Few large studies have characterized the epidemiology of pericardial effusion; however, the available data consistently show that pericardial effusion is more prevalent than is clinically evident. A higher incidence of it is associated with certain diseases.

Small pericardial effusions are often asymptomatic, and pericardial effusion has been found in 3.4% of subjects in general autopsy studies. When associated with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), small peridcardial effusion is an independent predictor of adverse events including longer and more complicated hospital stays as well as increased mortality. [6]

A wide variety of malignant neoplasms and hematologic malignancies can lead to pericardial effusion. Data on the prevalence varies, with some studies showing the presence of pericardial effusion as high as 21% in such patients. A large study by Bussani et al showed cardiac metastases (9.1%) and pericardial metastases (6.3%) in cases of death from all causes in individuals with an underlying carcinoma at autopsy. [7] As previously mentioned, malignancies with the highest prevalence of pericardial effusion include lung (37% of malignant effusions) and breast (22%) malignancies, as well as leukemia/lymphoma (17%).

Patients with HIV, with or without acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), are also found to have an increased prevalence of pericardial effusion. [8] Studies have shown the prevalence of pericardial effusion in these patients to range from 5-43%, depending on the inclusion criteria, with 13% having moderate to severe effusion. The incidence of pericardial effusion in patients infected with HIV has been estimated at 11%; however, it appears that highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) may have reduced the incidence of HIV-associated effusions. [9]

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