Pericardial effusion is a condition that shows the accumulation of fluid around the heart. The bilayer structure surrounding the heart is known as the pericardium, and normally there is a thin layer of fluid between the layers. High volume fluid may accumulate in the pericardium as a result of injury or illness – it may also be due to inflammation or bleeding.
Too much fluid around the heart can put extra pressure on the heart and leave it untreated – it can be a deadly condition.
Is fluid around the heart dangerous?
The answer depends largely on the cause of the excess fluid. There are a variety of causes, and different causes correlate with the danger of the disease.
In many cases, the fluid around the heart is the result of a viral infection and will clear itself – in which case the condition is less dangerous. When fluid around the heart is the result of trauma or autoimmune disease, it is very dangerous.
Types of fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion)
There are four types of pericardial effusion: fibrinous effusion, serous effusion, purulent effusion, and hemorrhagic effusion. Serous effusion is associated with irritation of the pericardium, with excess fluid excreted from the visceral layer of the serous pericardium.
The fibrous effusion contains fibrin, which is organized and forms adhesions. Hemorrhagic effusion is the result of mixing blood with other substances in the body, and purulent effusion is an accumulation of pus around the heart, often caused by infection.
Symptoms of fluid around the heart
Symptoms of pericardial effusion gradually increase with increasing fluid retention. Symptoms may include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, difficulty breathing while lying, chest pain on the left side and chest fullness.
If symptoms of chest pain persist, call 911 immediately for a few minutes, or when breathing becomes increasingly difficult or painful.
What causes fluid around the heart?
As mentioned, there are a number of causes of pericardial effusion that vary in severity. Occurs in some cases, when the cause cannot be determined, it is known as idiopathic pericarditis.
Causes of fluid around the heart are:
- Inflammation of the pericardium caused by heart attacks and heart surgery
- Autoimmune diseases such as lupus
- Spread of cancer, especially lung cancer, breast cancer or melanoma
- Radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer
- Waste product in the blood as kidney failure
- Virus, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections
- Breast or heart trauma
- Certain prescription medicines, such as medicines for the treatment of hypertension, epileptic seizures or tuberculosis drugs
Diagnosis of pericardial effusion
Your doctor will perform a series of tests to correctly diagnose pericardial effusion. These tests include:
- Medical examination
- Echocardiogram that uses sound waves to get a picture of your heart. Your doctor will examine the space between the heart and pericardium to determine the extent of fluid retention. There are two types of echocardiograms: transthoracic or transesophageal, which is either a device over the chest or a tube in the esophagus.
- Electrocardiograms that recorded electrical signals from the heart
- Chest X-ray
- Use of MRI or CT Scan as imaging techniques
- Blood tests
Guidelines on Pericardial Casting Treatment
The treatment of pericardial effusion is based on the underlying cause of the disease. This means that your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, corticosteroids or aspirin. If these treatments are not successful, your doctor will need to drain the fluid around the heart by inserting a thin needle and catheter. Other treatments include balloon pericardiotomy – which uses a deflated balloon to stretch the layers around the heart -, open heart surgery, and the removal of all or parts of pericardium, which is often used in recurrent cases.
To avoid complications from pericardial effusion, it is best you see your doctor the moment you begin to experience symptoms. When it comes to matters of the heart, you do not want to fool around. If you have any breast-related symptoms, you should have yourself examined as this may also be an indication of a heart attack.