Cardiac Tamponade

(Tamponade; Pericardial Tamponade)


Cardiac tamponade is when fluid builds up in the sac around the heart. The fluid puts pressure on the heart. The pressure reduces the amount of blood that is pumped in and out of the heart.

This condition can be life-threatening. It can be treated, but it can return after treatment.

Cardiac Tamponade

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Cardiac tamponade can be caused by many things, such as:

  • An infection that causes pericarditis —an inflammation of the sac around the heart
  • Bleeding into the heart sac, caused by injury
  • A ruptured heart muscle
  • Cancer in or near the heart

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk of cardiac tamponade are:


Symptoms vary from mild to severe. They may include:

  • Tiredness or sleepiness
  • Fast breathing or problems breathing
  • Lightheadedness, weakness, or fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Cough, problems swallowing, hoarseness, or hiccups
  • Swelling of the belly, veins in the arms or legs, or other areas
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Nausea or lack of hunger


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Diagnosis is usually based on symptoms and confirmed with testing.


Cardiac tamponade is a serious condition. It needs to be treated right away in the hospital.

The goal of treatment is to:

  • Ease symptoms
  • Improve heart function
  • Treat underlying conditions
  • Save the person's life

Treatments include:

  • Pericardiocentesis —a procedure to drain the fluid around the heart
  • Fluids to maintain normal blood pressure
  • Medicines to:
    • Fight infection
    • Ease inflammation and pain
    • Improve blood pressure and heart function
  • Oxygen to reduce workload on the heart

Sometimes there are problems—or not enough fluid can be drained. If so, surgery may be done to remove or cut part of the pericardium.


There are no current guidelines to prevent cardiac tamponade.


American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Cardiac tamponade. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Accessed July 16, 2021.
Heart Inflammation. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: . Accessed July 16, 2021.
Pericardial effusion and tamponade. EBSCO DynaMed . Available at: Accessed July 16, 2021.
York NL, Kane C, Smith CS. Identification and Management of Acute Cardiac Tamponade. Dimens Crit Care Nurs. 2018;37(3):130-134.
Last reviewed July 16, 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 7/16/2021

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