Fluid Around the Human Heart: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

March 3rd, 2010 | Under: Articles,Heart Diseases »

The heart is surrounded by a double layer thin membrane (pericardium). In normal conditions, several milliliters of fluid are present between the heart muscles and the pericardium. Generally pericardial effusion happens with an abnormal fluid accumulation around your heart.

Excess fluid accumulation around the heart is not attributed to gender or age. Many conditions can result in fluid build up around the heart and the lungs. The condition might happen when pericardial fluid flow is blocked, and blood is accumulated in the pericardium. Such cancer forms as thyroid cancer, cancer of the cervix, kidney, larynx, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, leukemia, and cancer spread to pericardium, can provoke excessive build up of fluid. Cancer cells on the pericardium can evolve a reactive accumulation of fluid. Fungal, bacterial, viral, parasitic infections, tuberculosis can cause fluid build up around the heart. Actually the causes of pericardial effusion include kidney disorders and congestive heart failure. There might be fluid accumulation around the heart after a surgery. Treatment of cancer such as chemotherapy and radiation trigger the build up of fluids. Autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus) can be a cause too. A trauma or injury to the heart, the use of some drugs can provoke pericardial effusion. People with breast cancer or lung cancer often complain of excessive fluids around the heart.


Difficulty breathing performing everyday actions or lying down represent the primary pericardial effusion symptom. Sharp pains in chest together with tightness, and chronic dry cough may occur as well. Nausea, dizziness, fainting, troubles with swallowing are the symptoms of fluid accumulation around the heart. People also complain of a low grade fever with pain radiating between the neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen and back. In serious conditions, lips and skin can develop a bluish tinge. If untreated, the condition leads to cardiogenic shock.


Untreated fluid around heart causes tamponade. Because of the pressure made by pericardial effusion, the chambers pumping blood cannot work properly, thus 1 or more heart chambers can collapse, leading to bad blood circulation and inadequate oxygen supply to the body. It is advised to seek the treatment right away. Treatment generally depends on the fluid amount and the underlying reason for it.

If you are at risk to develop tamponade, surgery to drain the pericardium is unavoidable. The types of surgeries are:

  • Ultrasound-controlled pericardiocentesis is an effective procedure to remove excessive fluid accumulated in the pericardium.
  • Intrapericardial sclerosis is a procedure when a solution gets injected in between the pericardium layers to seal them together. The procedure is performed for the pericardial effusion provoked by cancer.
  • Pericardiectomy involves surgical removal of partial or full pericardium. Though, such a surgery is normally chosen only in really complicated and severe cases of fluid accumulation.
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