Thumbnail image of: Pericardium: Illustration

Pericardiocentesis of the Heart

What is pericardiocentesis?

Pericardiocentesis is a procedure to remove fluid from the sac around the heart. This sac is called the pericardium.

When is it used?

Pericardiocentesis may be used to:

  • Diagnose infection or cancer that may be causing fluid around the heart
  • Relieve symptoms, such as pain and shortness of breath, caused by fluid around the heart
  • Treat a life-threatening, rapid buildup of fluid around the heart that puts pressure on the heart muscle. The fluid makes it hard for the heart to pump blood to the rest of your body.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • This procedure may be done in an emergency and preparation may not be possible. If this is a planned procedure:
  • And you know you are not staying in the hospital afterwards, find someone to drive you home afterward.
  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Some products may increase your risk of side effects. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.
  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. This helps to keep you from vomiting during the procedure.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions about not smoking before and after the procedure. Smokers may have more breathing problems during the procedure and heal more slowly. It’s best to quit 6 to 8 weeks before surgery.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

Before the procedure you will be given medicine to help you relax, but you may be awake during the procedure. You will be given a local anesthetic to numb the area on your chest. A needle is put through your chest over your heart or through the area just under your breastbone. The needle punctures the pericardial sac around the heart. Once the puncture is made, a tube is put in to drain the fluid. A small sample of fluid may be sent for testing.

What happens after the procedure?

The procedure takes about 20 to 60 minutes. Sometimes the catheter is left in the pericardium to drain the fluid. If this is done, you will stay in the hospital until the catheter is removed.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection or bleeding.
  • While not common, you could have an irregular heartbeat, a heart attack, or a stroke.
  • The catheter could puncture the heart, lung, or liver.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-21
Last reviewed: 2015-01-20
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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