Pericarditis Effusion

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the sac that covers the heart. The inflammation can result in an acute condition that causes chest pain that intensifies with breathing and malaise. It can also result in fluid accumulation within the pericardium, a condition known as pericardial effusion. The fluid may accumulate very slowly or it can occur more rapidly, leading to compression of the heart.

There are many causes of pericarditis, the most common cause of pericardial effusion, including infections (bacterial or viral), chest trauma, heart surgery or a heart attack, and malignancies or severe kidney failure.
Symptoms of Pericardial Effusion 
There are many symptoms of this condition including: 

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Discomfort when breathing while lying down 
  • Chest pain 
  • Cough 
  • Low-grade fever 
  • Rapid heart rate


Treatment of Pericardial Effusion
Treatment options for pericardial effusion depend on the severity and cause. Smaller pericardial effusions that can be linked to a specific cause (such as kidney failure) often require no treatment.

For cases caused by pericarditis, treating the pericarditis will also treat the pericardial effusion. These treatments may include the following:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for cases caused by inflammation
  • Corticosteroids
  • Colchicine
  • Antibiotics, for cases caused by infection


If the effusion causes the heart to become impaired, the fluid must be drained immediately. A doctor can drain the fluid through a needle and catheter (pericardiocentesis), or a surgeon can cut away part of the peridcardium (pericardiectomy).


Our physicians at Houston Methodist specialize in managing pericardial effusions at the following convenient locations.