Study objective: Timely diagnosis of a pericardial effusion is often critical in the emergency medicine setting, and echocardiography provides the only reliable method of diagnosis at the bedside. We attempt to determine the accuracy of bedside echocardiography as performed by emergency physicians to detect pericardial effusions in a variety of high-risk populations.
Methods: Emergency patients presenting with high-risk criteria for the diagnosis of pericardial effusion underwent emergency bedside 2-dimensional echocardiography by emergency physicians who were trained in ultrasonography. The presence or absence of a pericardial effusion was determined, and all images were captured on video or as thermal images. All emergency echocardiograms were subsequently reviewed by the Department of Cardiology for the presence of a pericardial effusion.
Results: During the study period, a total of 515 patients at high risk were enrolled. Of these, 103 patients were ultimately deemed to have a pericardial effusion according to the comparative standard. Emergency physicians detected pericardial effusion with a sensitivity of 96% (95% confidence interval [CI] 90.4% to 98.9%), specificity of 98% (95% CI 95.8% to 99.1%), and overall accuracy of 97.5% (95% CI 95.7% to 98.7%).
Conclusion: Echocardiography performed by emergency physicians is reliable in evaluating for pericardial effusions; this bedside diagnostic tool may be used to examine specific patients at high risk. Emergency departments incorporating bedside ultrasonography should teach focused echocardiography to evaluate the pericardium.