ElectrocardiogramsPulmonary CarePulmonary Conditions

Diagnosing Cardiac Tamponade

By September 1, 2017 September 3rd, 2017 No Comments

Cardiac tamponade occurs when fluid fills the pericardial sac surrounding the heart. The buildup in the pericardial sac restricts the heart muscle from expanding and pumping blood. As a result, the cardiovascular system is compromised. If gone untreated the condition will lead to cardiac arrest, which requires surgical intervention to relieve tamponade.

Fluid can collect in the pericardial sac over a period of time, however in some cases the condition occurs immediately. Unfortunately, the rapid buildup of fluids that happens when tamponade is immediate strains the pericardial sac, which is not accustom to holding fluids. In these cases, emergency intervention is necessary. The risk of tamponade heightens after heart surgery. Therefore, patients must be closely monitored post-surgery.


Penetrating trauma is the most common causes of tamponade. In these cases, the heart or the blood vessels serving the heart are compromised, as a result blood fills the periodical sac compressing the heart. Blunt trauma is also a common cause of tamponade, therefore patients presenting to the ER after experiencing a trauma should be screened for the condition.

Less common causes of tamponade are cardiac rupture, pericarditis, uremia, and some forms of cancers. In these cases, tamponade is likely to occur over time. Patients with presenting risk factors should be closely monitored by healthcare professionals.


Cardiac tamponade is difficult to diagnosis as signs and symptoms often mimic those associated with other conditions. Low blood pressure, distended veins, and muffled heart sounds are signs that the cardiovascular system has been compromised. Therefore, Beck’s triad is a common diagnostic procedure for cardiac tamponade. EKG testing can be utilized for additional screening along with signs of shock such as tachycardia, loss of consciousness, and difficulty breathing. Lastly, an echocardiogram can be utilized as the tool can confirm fluid buildup around the heart. Additional research on this topic is recommended, especially for those currently working or preparing to enter the medical field.


1 Kelly, R., Lang, R., Oudiz, R., Talavera, F., Yarlagadda, C. (2016, November 12). Cardiac Tamponade. Retrieved from emedicine.medscape.com.

2 Barwell, J., Leonard, L., Weathrspoon, D. (2015, November 15). Cardiac Tamponade. Retrieved from www.healthline.com.

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