Background: In decompensated chronic heart failure, there is controversy regarding the incidence and amount of pericardial fluid. Moreover, the relation of pericardial effusion to pleural effusion has not yet been clarified. The current study examined the incidence and amount of pericardial effusion in patients with decompensated chronic heart failure as a function of the volume of pleural effusion.
Methods and results: The study subjects were 60 consecutive patients with chronic heart failure requiring diuresis to improve the symptoms and signs of congestion. Pericardial effusion was semiquantified on the basis of M-mode echocardiographic findings and the volume of thoracic effusion drawn from computed tomographic images of the chest with Simpson's method. Causes of decompensated chronic heart failure in the 60 patients included cardiac valve disease (n = 26), arterial hypertension (n = 12), chronic ischemic heart disease (n = 9), and others (n = 13). As many as 52 (87%) of the 60 patients had pleural effusion; of these, 45 had bilateral effusion, 5 had right-sided effusion only, and 2 had left-sided effusion only. In contrast, only 12 (20%) patients had small (n = 9) or moderate (n = 3) pericardial effusion. There was no significant association between the amount of pleural effusion and the semiquantified pericardial effusion (chi-square 3.27, P =.775).
Conclusions: In this series of patients with congestive heart failure, small pericardial effusion was sometimes observed, but moderate to large effusion was uncommon, and there was no significant association between a given amount of pleural effusion and the volume of pericardial effusion.