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Cardiac tamponade happens when extra fluid builds up in the space around the heart. This fluid puts pressure on the heart and prevents it from pumping well.
A fibrous sac called the pericardium surrounds the heart. This sac is made up of two thin layers. Normally, a small amount of fluid if found between the two layers. The fluid prevents friction between the layers when they move as the heart beats. In some cases, extra fluid can build up abnormally between these two layers. If too much fluid builds up, the extra fluid can make it hard for the heart to expand normally. Because of the extra pressure, less blood enters the heart from the body. That can reduce the amount of oxygen-rich blood going out to the body.
If the fluid builds up around the heart too quickly, it can lead to short-term (acute) cardiac tamponade. It is life threatening if not treated right away. Another type of cardiac tamponade (subacute) can happen when the fluid builds up more slowly.
Cardiac tamponade is not common. But anyone can develop this health problem.
Cardiac tamponade results from fluid buildup in the sac around the heart. this fluid buildup is called a pericardial effusion. Often the pericardial sac also becomes inflamed. Some health issues that can cause this fluid buildup are:
Sometimes doctors do not know the cause of cardiac tamponade.
Symptoms are often severe and sudden in acute cardiac tamponade. In subacute cardiac tamponade, you might not have any symptoms early on. But usually the symptoms get worse with time. Possible symptoms include:
Sometimes acute cardiac tamponade can also lead to very low blood pressure. That can cause symptoms of shock. These include cool arms, legs, fingers, and toes, pale skin, and less urine than normal.
The symptoms of cardiac tamponade may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your past health. You will also need an exam. Your healthcare provider may note a larger-than-normal drop in blood pressure when you take a breath. A number of tests can also help with the diagnosis. Some of these tests might include:
Your healthcare provider must try to find the cause of the cardiac tamponade, if it is unknown. That is especially important if you have symptoms of shock. To find the cause, you may need some of these tests:
In certain cases, healthcare providers might drain the pericardial sac during surgery instead. In some cases, the surgeon removes some of the pericardium. That can help diagnose the cause of the tamponade. It can also prevent the fluid from building up again. This is called a pericardial window.
Symptoms often improve quite a bit after the extra fluid is removed. The final outcome may depend on the reason for the fluid buildup, the severity of the tamponade, the speed of treatment, and other health problems you have.
Other therapies are often given in addition to fluid removal include:
If treated quickly, cardiac tamponade often causes no complications. Untreated, it can lead to shock. Serious problems can result from shock. For example, reduced blood flow to the kidneys during shock can cause the kidneys to fail. Untreated shock may also lead to organ failure and death.
You can cut your risk for some of the health problems that can lead to cardiac tamponade. For example, take care of your heart by:
Many cases of cardiac tamponade cannot be prevented, though.
Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any symptoms of cardiac tamponade. Call 911 if you are having breathing problems, chest pain, or symptoms of shock.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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