Bloody pericardial effusion in patients with cardiac tamponade: is the cause cancerous, tuberculous, or iatrogenic in the 1990s?

Chest. 1999 Dec;116(6):1564-9. doi: 10.1378/chest.116.6.1564.


Study objectives: The decrease in incidence of tuberculosis, along with the increase in invasive cardiovascular procedures, may have changed the frequency of causes of bloody pericardial effusion associated with cardiac tamponade, although this is not yet recognized by medical textbooks. We analyzed the causes of bloody pericardial effusion in the clinical setting of cardiac tamponade in the 1990s; patients' survival; the effect of laboratory results on discharge diagnosis; and how often bloody pericardial effusion is a presenting manifestation of a new malignancy or tuberculosis.

Design: Retrospective, observational, single-center study.

Setting: A community hospital.

Patients: The charts of all patients who underwent pericardiocentesis for cardiac tamponade and had bloody pericardial effusion were retrospectively reviewed.

Results: Of 150 patients who had pericardiocentesis for relieving cardiac tamponade, 96 patients (64%) had a bloody pericardial effusion. The most common cause of bloody pericardial effusion was iatrogenic disease (31%), namely, secondary to invasive cardiac procedures. The other common causes were malignancy (26%), complications of atherosclerotic heart disease (11%), and idiopathic disease (10%). Tuberculosis was detected as a cause of bloody pericardial effusion in one patient and presumed to be the cause in another patient. Bloody pericardial effusion was found to be a presenting manifestation of a newly diagnosed malignancy in two patients. The patients in the idiopathic and iatrogenic groups were all alive and had no recurrence of pericardial effusion at 24 +/- 27 and 33 +/- 21 months after hospital discharge, respectively, whereas 80% of patients with malignancy-related bloody effusions died within 8 +/- 6 months.

Conclusions: In a patient population that is reasonably representative of that in most community hospitals in the United States, the most common cause of bloody pericardial effusion in patients with signs or symptoms of cardiac tamponade is now iatrogenic disease. Of the noniatrogenic causes, malignancy, complications of acute myocardial infarction, and idiopathic disease predominated. Hemorrhagic tuberculous pericardial effusions are uncommon and may likely reflect a low incidence of cardiac tuberculosis in community hospitals in the United States.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cardiac Tamponade / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Pericardial Effusion / etiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tuberculosis / complications