Back to Client Info Index

Pericardial Effusion(Fluid Around the Heart

Understanding Your Pet's Medical Diagnosis

What is pericardial effusion?

The heart is located within a sac in the chest. This sac is the "pericardial sac." Normally, a small amount of fluid is in the sac, between the heart itself and the lining of the sac. When the volume of fluid increases, pericardial effusion results. Effusion is defined as the seeping of fluid into a body cavity. Pericardial effusion is the presence of an abnormally high volume of fluid within the sac surrounding the heart. This fluid can lead to problems with the function of the heart and decreased blood flow to the body. The liver and kidneys can be affected adversely by this condition.

What causes pericardial effusion?

The causes of pericardial effusion include:

What are the signs of pericardial effusion?

Signs of pericardial effusion include lethargy, poor appetite, weakness, abdominal swelling, exercise intolerance, rapid breathing, fainting, and collapse. The animal's gums and tongue may be pale. The heart may be difficult to hear upon auscultation (listening to the heart with a stethoscope). The pulses may also be weak.

How is pericardial effusion diagnosed?

Pericardial effusion is diagnosed starting with a good medical history and physical examination, followed by routine laboratory tests. The tests include complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistries, and urinalysis. These tests are often normal. Blood clotting times will be assessed. Cats may be tested for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Radiographs (X-rays) will indicate apparent enlargement of the heart and possible fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen. The apparent enlargement of the heart is due to the presence of fluid in the pericardial sac, the heart itself does not enlarge and the fluid may actually compress it. The best test to confirm pericardial effusion is the echocardiogram, which is a graph of the position and motion of the heart obtained by recording the echo from beams of ultrasonic waves directed through the chest wall. The echocardiogram frequently can detect the cause of pericardial effusion.

How is pericardial effusion treated?

The treatment for pericardial effusion will depend upon the severity of the clinical signs and the volume of pericardial fluid present. In severe cases, the fluid may need to be removed from the pericardial sac on an emergency basis. A catheter or needle will be inserted through the chest wall and into the pericardial sac. Fluid will be withdrawn with a syringe. This procedure is known as a "pericardiocentesis." If the fluid continues to build up or if the animal does not respond, this procedure may need to be performed repeatedly, or surgery may be indicated. After the pet is stabilized, medication can be started. Medications should not be used in place of pericardiocentesis. Medications may include diuretics (to increase urine flow and thus remove excessive fluid from the body), antibiotics, steroids, or chemotherapy.

What is the prognosis for animals with pericardial effusion?

The prognosis (outcome) for animals with pericardial effusion varies, depending on the underlying cause. Pericardial effusion can lead to serious complications and death. However, in many cases the pet can survive and return home following aggressive treatment. Follow-up examinations by the veterinarian are necessary to evaluate the pet for recurrence or complications.

The majority of the information in this page is has been taken from VetMedCenter.com. For further information about this useful source of informtion follow the link or look, on the internet, at www.vetmedcenter.com.


Back to Client Info Index