Aims: We evaluated echo-guided pericardiocentesis with contrast study in cardiac tamponade management.

Patients and Methods: From 1982 to 1998 we performed pericardiocentesis in 110 patients (56 ± 14 years old). Subxiphoid approach was used in 109. Cardiac tamponade was idiopathic ( n =16), secondary to malignant disease ( n =50) and miscellaneous disorders ( n =44).

Results: Pericardial fluid was bloody ( n =75), serous ( n =29) or turbid ( n =6). Mean volume of fluid removed was 585 ± 370 ml. When prolonged drainage (60 ± 26 h) was used ( n =41), total effusion volume was 850 ± 340 ml. Eleven deaths were observed during the early period following pericardiocentesis. No relation with procedure was demonstrated by autopsy in 10, and death always occurred in critically-ill patients (five malignant diseases, five cardiac ruptures and one septic shock). Other complications were: right ventricular puncture ( n =11) with deleterious effect in one, vasovagal hypotension ( n =6) and paroxysmal arrhythmia ( n =6). Surgical drainage was mandatory in 19 patients. It had to be done as an emergency (within 6 h), because of failure of the procedure in four patients. In 14 patients without prolonged drainage a delayed surgical evacuation was indicated, because of persistent ( n =3) or recurrent ( n =11) cardiac tamponade. Only one surgical procedure was required after prolonged drainage.

Conclusions: Echo-guided pericardiocentesis with contrast study is an effective technique which reduces the risk of cardiac tamponade management. It should be considered in patients with critical haemodynamic condition or advanced malignancy, and in patients with poor short-term prognosis.

Author notes

Presented in part at EURO ECHO 1, Prague, December 1997 and EURO ECHO 2, Trieste, December 1998.