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Pericardiocentesis

Definition

Pericardiocentesis is a procedure that uses a needle to remove fluid from the pericardial sac, the tissue that surrounds the heart.

Alternative Names

Pericardial tap; Percutaneous pericardiocentesis

How the test is performed

The procedure is usually done in an intensive care unit's procedure room or even at the bedside.

A health care provider will put an IV into your arm in case fluids or medicines need to be given through a vein. For example, medication may be given if your heart beat slows or your blood pressure drops during the procedure.

The health care provider will clean an area just below the breastbone and apply numbing medication (anesthetic). The doctor will insert a needle and guide it into tissue that surrounds the heart.  Echocardiography is used to help the doctor see the needle and any fluid drainage. An electrocardiogram (ECG) may also be used to help with positioning.

Once the needle has reached the correct area, it is removed and replaced with a tube called a catheter. Fluid drains through this tube into containers. Usually, the pericardial catheter is left in place so draining may continue for several hours.

Surgical pericardiocentesis may be necessary in difficult cases. This is a more invasive procedure, which may require general anesthesia.

How to prepare for the test

You may not be able to eat or drink for 6 hours before the test. You must sign a consent form.

How the test will feel

You may feel pressure as the needle enters. Some people have chest pain, which may require pain medication.

Why the test is performed

This test may be done to remove and examine fluid that is pressing on the heart. It is usually done to evaluate the cause of a chronic or recurrent pericardial effusion.

It may also be done to treat cardiac tamponade.

Normal Values

There is normally a small amount of clear, straw-colored fluid in the pericardial space.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal findings may indicate the cause of pericardial fluid accumulation, such as:

What the risks are

  • Bleeding
  • Collapsed lung
  • Heart attack
  • Infection (pericarditis)
  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
  • Puncture of the heart muscle, coronary artery, lung, liver, or stomach
  • Pneumopericardium (air in the pericardial sac)

References

LeWinter MM, Tischler MD. Pericardial diseases. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap75.

Little WC, Oh JK. Pericardial diseases. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 77.


Review Date: 6/7/2012
Reviewed By: Glenn Gandelman, MD, MPH, FACC Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College, and in private practice specializing in cardiovascular disease in Greenwich, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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