Health Care

What is Cardiac Tamponade?

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Have you heard of a serious medical condition that compresses the heart from fluid buildup in the sac surrounding the heart? It’s called cardiac tamponade, and we’re here to give you the facts on this condition. While it is dangerous, having awareness of what it is, its causes, symptoms and treatments is the first step to combatting it and recovering if the need arises.

What is Cardiac Tamponade?

In cardiac tamponade, blood or fluids fill the space between the sac that encases the heart and the heart muscle, which places intense pressure on your heart. The pressure prevents the heart’s ventricles from fully expanding and keeps your heart from functioning properly. Your heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of your body when this happens. This can lead to organ failure, shock and cardiac arrest, which can be fatal.

Cardiac tamponade is a medical emergency. If you or someone you know begins experiencing symptoms, call 911 and get to the nearest ER immediately.

Causes of Cardiac Tamponade

Cardiac tamponade is usually the result of penetration of the pericardium, which is the thin, double-walled sac that surrounds your heart. The cavity around your heart can fill with enough blood or other bodily fluids to compress your heart. As the fluid presses on your heart, less and less blood can enter. Then, less oxygen-rich blood is pumped to the rest of your body. The causes of pericardial penetration or fluid accumulation might include:

  • A heart attack
  • A ruptured aortic aneurysm
  • Accidental perforation
  • Blunt trauma to the chest
  • Cancer that has spread to the pericardial sac
  • Gunshot, puncture or stab wounds
  • High levels of radiation to the chest
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Infections that affect the heart
  • Kidney failure
  • Lupus
  • Pericarditis

Symptoms of Cardiac Tamponade

If you or someone close to you has the following symptoms, it could be cardiac tamponade:

  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Breathing difficulty or taking deep breaths
  • Chest pain radiating to your neck, shoulders or back
  • Discomfort that’s relieved by sitting or leaning forward
  • Fainting, dizziness, and loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weakness

Remember, don’t wait. Get to your nearest ER as soon as possible.

How is Cardiac Tamponade Treated?

Cardiac tamponade requires hospitalization. The treatment should relieve pressure on your heart and then treat the underlying condition. Initial treatment is your medical team making sure you’re stabilized.

Your doctor will drain the fluid from your pericardial sac with a needle. This procedure is called pericardiocentesis. You may need a more complex procedure called a thoracotomy to drain blood or remove blood clots if you have a penetrating wound. They may remove part of your pericardium to help relieve pressure on your heart.

You’ll also receive oxygen, fluids and medications to increase your blood pressure.

Once the tamponade is under control and your condition stabilizes, your doctor may perform additional tests to determine the underlying cause of your diagnosis.

Our Heart and Vascular care team is here to care for your whole heart with preventive care, advanced screenings for rapid diagnosis, accredited specialized cardiovascular treatments, advanced research and life-saving heart care. Learn more here.

Around-the-Clock Emergency Care

Emergencies like a cardiac tamponade are never planned. We hope you never experience such an emergency, but we want you to know we’re here for you 24/7 at convenient locations close to home. Our emergency room physicians and staff are ready to react with urgency, treat with expertise and comfort with compassion. Visit us here to learn more and find your nearest AdventHealth ER location. Our goal is to keep you healthy, safe and whole.

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