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Heart, front view
Heart, front view


Cardiac tamponade
Cardiac tamponade


Cardiac tamponade is the compression of the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the myocardium (the muscle of the heart) and the pericardium (the outer covering sac of the heart).

Alternative Names:

Tamponade; Pericardial tamponade

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

In this condition, blood or fluid collects within the pericardium. This prevents the ventricles from expanding fully. They cannot fill enough or pump blood.

Cardiac tamponade can occur due to:

Other potential causes include:

Cardiac tamponade occurs in approximately 2 out of 10,000 people.

  • Anxiety , restlessness
  • Chest pain
    • Radiating to the neck, shoulder, back, or abdomen
    • Sharp, stabbing
    • Worsened by deep breathing or coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Discomfort, sometimes relieved by sitting upright or leaning forward
  • Fainting , light-headedness
  • Pale, gray, or blue skin
  • Palpitations
  • Rapid breathing
  • Swelling of the abdomen or other areas

Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak or absent pulse

Signs and tests:

There are no specific laboratory tests that diagnose tamponade. Echocardiogram is the first choice to help establish the diagnosis.


  • Blood pressure may fall (pulsus paradoxical) when the person inhales deeply
  • Breathing may be rapid (faster than 12 breaths in an adult per minute)
  • Heart rate may be over 100 (normal is 60 to 100 beats per minute)
  • Heart sounds faint during examination with a stethoscope
  • Neck veins may be abnormally extended (distended) but the blood pressure may be low
  • Peripheral pulses may be weak or absent

Other tests may include:


Cardiac tamponade is an emergency condition that requires hospitalization. The purpose of treatment is to:

  • Save the patient's life
  • Improve heart function
  • Relieve symptoms
  • Treat the tamponade

Treatment usually involves a procedure to drain the fluid around the heart (pericardiocentesis ) or to cut and remove part of the pericardium (surgical pericardiectomy or pericardial window).

Fluids are given to maintain normal blood pressure until pericardiocentesis can be performed. Medications that increase blood pressure may also help sustain the patient's life until the fluid is drained.

The patient may be given oxygen. This reduces the workload on the heart by decreasing tissue demands for blood flow.

The cause of the tamponade must be identified and treated. Treatment of the cause may include medications such as antibiotics, and surgery to repair the injury.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

Tamponade is life-threatening if untreated. The outcome is often good if the condition is treated promptly, but tamponade may recur.

Calling your health care provider:

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms develop. Cardiac tamponade is an emergency condition requiring immediate attention.


Many cases are not preventable. Awareness of your personal risk factors may allow early diagnosis and treatment.

Review Date: 5/15/2008
Reviewed By: Robert A. Cowles, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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