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Fluid Around Heart: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

February 26, 2023
Fluid Around Heart: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Have you ever felt like your chest is carrying a heavy load, with uncomfortable pressure squeezing your heart? It can be an alarming experience, but fear not! You might be experiencing what doctors call "fluid around the heart," an excess of fluid accumulated in and around your heart. 

Don't worry; understanding what causes it, how to spot its symptoms, and how to treat it will empower you to conquer this condition and feel like yourself again! 

In this exciting blog post, we'll delve into all of the common questions about fluid around the heart, giving you the knowledge and tools you need to take charge of your health.

What is Fluid Around Heart?

Pericardial effusion is when fluid starts to gather around the heart. And we're not talking about just a little bit of fluid; we're talking about a significant buildup that can be life-threatening!

This extra fluid finds its way between the heart and the pericardium, which is a protective shell around the heart. Normally, a small amount of fluid is present to help the heart move effortlessly inside the sac. But when too much fluid builds up too quickly, it can create a condition known as cardiac tamponade. And let me tell you, this is not something to mess around with. It's a medical emergency that could be fatal if not treated immediately.

So remember, if you ever feel any chest pain or have trouble breathing, don't wait. Seek medical attention right away because it could be a sign of pericardial effusion and cardiac tamponade. Stay safe, and take care of your heart!

What Causes Fluid Around Heart?

Pericardial effusion can be caused by a variety of conditions, but the most common culprit is pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac around the heart. When inflammation strikes, more fluid is produced, which can lead to a buildup of fluid around the heart.

Viral infections can also cause inflammation and effusions. These viruses can wreak havoc on the heart, from the sneaky cytomegalovirus to the pesky coxsackieviruses and echoviruses. And don't forget about HIV, lupus, and tuberculosis, which can also lead to effusions. But fear not; treating the underlying medical issue can often help reduce the effusion and get your heart back to its normal rhythm.

Unfortunately, other conditions can also cause effusions. Cancer, injuries to the heart or surrounding areas from medical treatments, coronary attacks, severe renal failure (also known as uremia), and autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are just a few examples. It's essential to recognize the symptoms and seek medical attention immediately to prevent further damage.

Symptoms of Fluid Around Heart

woman with pain

Sometimes, these effusions can sneak up on you without any warning signs. But when they do produce symptoms, they can be pretty intense. If the effusion occurs rapidly, is a large amount, or results in cardiac tamponade, then watch out because things might get serious!

Some main signs to look out for include shortness of breath, chest pressure or discomfort, and a rapid heart rate or palpitations. You might also experience lightheadedness, fainting, fatigue, or even confusion due to low blood flow to the brain. And if your lips or nails turn blue or gray, that's a sign of low levels of oxygen in the blood, which is called cyanosis.

 If the effusion is significant enough, it can even cause pressure on nearby tissues or nerves, leading to difficulty swallowing, hiccups, coughing, or even a change in your voice.

So if you're feeling any of these symptoms, don't wait! Seek medical attention immediately because it could be a sign of pericardial effusion and cardiac tamponade. 

How Do You Detect Fluid Around Heart?

Firstly, if you're experiencing symptoms like chest pressure or discomfort, difficulty breathing, or rapid heart rate, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history. But did you know that pericardial effusion can also be detected accidentally? For example, if you go in for a chest X-ray after a car accident, the doctor might spot an effusion you didn't even know you had!

But let's say you're exhibiting symptoms, or your doctor suspects you might have an effusion. Various diagnostic procedures are available to help determine what's going on inside your body. Your doctor might order an echocardiogram, chest X-ray, CT scan, or CT scan of the heart for imaging tests. These tests can provide a detailed look at the heart and surrounding tissues to detect abnormalities.

Another diagnostic tool is an electrocardiogram (ECG). This test uses electrodes attached to your chest to monitor the electrical activity of your heart and display it on a paper printout or electronic display. If your heart isn't beating correctly, doctors can detect it because the electrical activity changes in specific ways.

Lab tests are also an essential part of the diagnostic process. Doctors can use a complete blood count, troponin, B-type natriuretic peptide, and hormone activating the thyroid to determine the cause of your effusion. They might also perform immune system tests to look for disorders or inflammatory conditions.

In rare cases, doctors might even test the fluid extracted from the pericardium to help determine the underlying cause of the effusion. So don't worry; even if the pericardial effusion is difficult to diagnose, there are many tools at a doctor's disposal to help figure out what's happening inside your body!

How is Fluid Around The Heart Treated?

The treatment for pericardial effusions depends on their severity and underlying cause. If the effusion is small and has an established cause, such as renal failure, little ones with no symptoms may not require any specific treatment.

Inflammation of the sac causes pericardial effusions, but treating the inflammation can also relieve the effusion. And there are several exciting treatment options available! Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as Aleve, Indocin, and Motrin, as well as corticosteroids like prednisone and Solu-Medrol, and Colchicine (Colcrys) can all be used to treat the inflammation.

However, if there is a serious infection or heart failure, the excess fluid must be removed quickly. This is accomplished in two ways! The first method is pericardiocentesis, where a physician inserts a needle through the chest into the pericardial effusion and removes the fluid using suction. 

The second method is a pericardiectomy or pericardial window. In this procedure, the surgeon creates a chest incision, reaches in, and removes a portion of the pericardium to drain the effusion. This operation often prevents the pericardial effusion from returning and requires general anesthesia.

Chronic pericardial effusions have been present for at least three months; typically, no cause is known. Sometimes, they are monitored without therapy, but if symptoms are present or the heart is being damaged, drainage is often performed. How exciting is that?

Are There Any Adverse Effects Associated With the Treatments?

Each treatment can bring its own set of risks, so it's crucial to be informed by your healthcare practitioner. They can customize the information to your unique situation and needs.

One potential complication is pericardial decompression syndrome. Though rare, this condition can be severe and life-threatening. It may occur when a large amount of fluid is removed too quickly during treatment or surgery for pericardial effusion. But don't worry! Your healthcare professional can prevent this by draining the fluid more slowly.

How to Manage Your Symptoms?

This condition requires proper medical testing and imaging to be diagnosed accurately, so don't try to self-diagnose. Once you have been diagnosed, it's time to work with your healthcare specialist on a plan to manage your symptoms and reduce their impact on your life. Don't hesitate to ask questions and seek guidance from your healthcare provider - they are there to help you on your journey to recovery!

How Quickly Can You Recover From Fluid Around Heart?

Your healing process depends on three crucial factors: the underlying cause of the effusion, its severity, and the medical care you receive. Your overall health and the presence of any other medical conditions also play a role. 

If you're experiencing symptoms of cardiac tamponade, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, relief is on the way as the excess fluid is removed, and the pressure on your heart decreases. Your healthcare professional is your ultimate guide to giving personalized information about your expected recovery period and when you should start feeling better. 

How to Prevent Fluid Around Heart?

Are you determined to live life to the fullest and reduce your risk of pericardial effusion? While the unexpected nature of this condition can make it difficult to prevent, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. 

One of the most important is to seek prompt medical treatment for any infections you may have so they don't linger and potentially lead to complications. Additionally, if you love to engage in high-risk activities like sports or outdoor adventures, be sure to take all necessary safety precautions, such as wearing protective equipment. 

By taking these simple yet crucial steps, you can protect your heart and keep on living your best life. 

What is The Prognosis for Fluid Around Heart?

You may not require treatment if you have a small or medium pericardial effusion that is not causing symptoms or changing in size. Your healthcare professional will monitor the effusion and only provide treatment if symptoms or complications arise.

However, if your effusion is rapidly expanding, causing symptoms, or linked to a more severe illness like cancer or trauma, treatment is necessary. If you experience signs of cardiac tamponade, immediate medical attention is vital.

Effusions of unknown causes usually have a positive prognosis. On the other hand, effusions caused by trauma or malignancy may be more complicated and difficult to manage. Your healthcare professional can provide personalized information regarding your prognosis and treatment options.

Don't let pericardial effusion control your life! Seek medical assistance and let the experts guide you towards a healthier future.

What is the Duration of Fluid Around Heart?

Massive and rapidly expanding effusions are urgent medical conditions that need immediate attention! Waiting too long for diagnosis and treatment is not an option, especially in emergencies. 

On the other hand, chronic effusions, even if small and symptomless, can persist for extended periods, ranging from weeks to months or even years. In such cases, your healthcare provider may recommend regular check-ups to monitor the effusion's progress and decide if it poses any health risks. 

Stay on top of your health and trust your healthcare professional to guide you through the process!

How Can Your Care For Yourself With Fluid Around Heart?

Having pericardial effusion means you must pay close attention to your overall health and any changes in your symptoms. Following your healthcare provider's directions, particularly regarding medication and recovery management, is critical for a successful outcome. 

But when should you reach out to your healthcare provider? Your doctor may schedule follow-up appointments to monitor your condition and advise on symptom management and when to contact them. It's crucial to keep in touch with your healthcare provider and not hesitate to reach out if you have any concerns. Together, you can work towards the best possible outcome.

When Should You Go to The ER for Fluid Around Heart?


Don't ignore the warning signs of cardiac tamponade, a severe and life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. If you experience chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, changes in skin tone, fainting, lightheadedness, palpitations, or a rapid resting pulse rate of more than 100 beats per minute, rush to the emergency room without delay. Remember, time is of the essence when it comes to treating cardiac tamponade, and early intervention can make all the difference in your recovery.

Pericardial Effusion Vs. Cardiac Tamponade: What's The Difference

The pericardium is the heart's ultimate protector, like a shield that protects it from harm. It has two walls, and between them, a thin layer of fluid acts like bubble wrap to cushion the heart from external pressures. However, things can take a dangerous turn when too much fluid accumulates inside the pericardium, leading to cardiac tamponade. This can prevent the heart from expanding and filling with blood, leading to a life-threatening situation. If left untreated, it can cause the heart to stop beating in just a matter of minutes to hours!

Pericardial Effusion VS. Pleural Effusion: What's The Difference?

Unlike pericardial effusion, this occurs in a different area of your chest. The pleural cavity surrounds your lungs and if fluid builds up in this area, it's called pleural effusion. When this happens, your lungs can't expand properly, making it tough to catch your breath. It's important to get this checked out by a healthcare professional so you can get the treatment you need to breathe easy again!

How Prevalent is Fluid Around Heart?

Pericardial effusion can affect anyone, regardless of their age or background, and there are numerous potential causes for its occurrence. As a result, it is a widely prevalent condition. However, information about its prevalence is limited. In some cases, pericardial effusion is discovered by chance during an imaging exam, making it all the more important to stay vigilant about monitoring your health.

How Does This Disorder Impact Your Body?

Imagine your heart as a powerful engine that drives your body, beating tirelessly to keep you alive. But what if something was holding it back? That's precisely what happens in pericardial effusion, where fluid builds up around the heart, leaving less and less space for it to beat and pump blood efficiently. 

Think of it like a balloon trying to expand inside a small container. As the container fills up with water, there's less and less space for the balloon to grow, eventually leading to its inability to inflate at all. Similarly, as the pericardium expands, the heart's chambers have less space to fill with blood, forcing the heart to work harder and faster to compensate. 

If left untreated, the heart can no longer keep up, leading to cardiogenic shock, which can be fatal. So it's crucial to monitor your heart's health and seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of pericardial effusion, such as chest discomfort or difficulty breathing.

Is Fluid Around Heart a Serious Problem?

While this condition isn't always an emergency, it's nothing to take lightly. Pericardial effusions can come in all shapes and sizes - some might even go away on their own. But when they do become dangerous, it's crucial to act fast. 

The severity of the situation depends on the cause of the effusion, the amount of fluid, and how quickly it builds up in the pericardium. When effusions happen rapidly, even a small amount of fluid can cause cardiac tamponade - a life-threatening situation where the heart can't expand properly. But when pericardial effusion develops slowly, it can take weeks or even months to become a problem. 

If an effusion is caused by an accident, a heart or circulation disorder, or any other factor that could cause it to grow quickly, it requires immediate attention to prevent dangerous consequences like cardiac tamponade.

Is Fluid Around Heart Contagious?

Pericardial effusion may not be contagious, but it can certainly result from infections that spread like wildfire! From bacterial infections like tuberculosis, to viral infections like HIV, pericardial effusion can be a dangerous complication that arises from a variety of infectious diseases. It's important to identify and treat the underlying infection to prevent pericardial effusion from causing serious damage to the heart.

Bottom Line On Fluid Around Heart

heart health

Let's recap the importance of staying informed about fluid around the heart - it's crucial for our health and vitality! With various causes and symptoms, it's crucial to seek proper medical attention when necessary. 

Our bodies are a masterpiece of complexity, and understanding what's happening within ourselves can help us make informed decisions for our overall well-being. Every little detail we notice about our bodies matters; paying attention allows us to take charge of our lives and health. 

Keep up with our blog for more tips and insights into living your best life!

* All the information and content in this blog post are intended for informational purposes only. It should not be a substitute for professional or medical advice. You should always speak with a licensed professional before you follow anything you read in this blog post.

The information is provided by By Hilda Wong. While we try to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the post for any purpose.

Dr. Hilda Wong, MD

My name is Dr. Hilda Wong, MD, graduated from Avalon University School of Medicine. I have over 5 years of medical externship experience and a published researcher on PubMed. I'm also a health and nutrition enthusiast and have written several blogs and magazines in these areas. Forgot to mention that I own a Toy Australian Shepherd and a Betta Fish, and have an amazing zest for life, fashion, health, nutrition, and pets.

Dr. Hilda Wong, MD