Pericardial effusion and tamponade in infants with central catheters

Pediatrics. 2002 Jul;110(1 Pt 1):137-42. doi: 10.1542/peds.110.1.137.


Objective: To describe the clinical presentation, cause, and outcome of central venous catheter (CVC)-related pericardial effusions (PCE) in infants.

Methods: A retrospective case review was conducted of CVC-related PCE at university and private neonatal intensive care units. Data from our cases were combined with published case reports and included clinical presentation and outcome; biochemical evaluation of pericardial fluid; days until diagnosis; cardiothoracic ratios; and CVC characteristics, insertion site, and tip placement site.

Results: In our cases, 6 different neonatology groups cared for 14 patients at 6 different hospitals in 2 cities. These data were combined with 47 cases reviewed from the literature. Pericardial fluid was obtained in 54 cases from the combined group and was described qualitatively as consistent with the infusate in 53 of 54 cases (98%). Biochemical analysis was performed in 37 cases, and in 36 of 37 cases (97%), the pericardial fluid was consistent with the infusate. The median gestational age at birth was 30.0 weeks (range: 23.5-42). The median time from CVC insertion to diagnosis was 3.0 days (range: 0.2-37; n = 59). Sudden cardiac collapse was reported in 37 cases (61%), and unexplained cardiorespiratory instability was reported in 22 cases (36%). The CVC tip was last reported within the pericardial reflections on chest radiograph in 56 cases (92%) at the time of PCE diagnosis. The mean cardiothoracic ratio increased 17% (n = 14). No patients died among our cases. Among the reviewed cases, 45% mortality was reported. For the combined group, mortality was 34%. For the combined group, mortality was 8% (3 of 37) in the patients who underwent pericardiocentesis versus 75% (18 of 24) for the patients who did not. In 21 patients, the catheter was withdrawn and remained in use. Survivors and nonsurvivors had comparable gestational age at birth, birth weight, days to PCE diagnosis, and day of life of PCE symptoms/diagnosis. Access site, catheter type, and catheter size were not associated with mortality. An association between larger catheters and shorter time to PCE may be present. Access site and catheter type were not associated with time to PCE. Autopsy specimens reported 6 cases of myocardial necrosis/thrombus formation, 9 cases of perforation without myocardial necrosis/thrombus formation, and 2 cases in which both were reported.

Conclusions: The pericardial fluid found in CVC-associated PCE is consistent with the infusate. We speculate that there are several mechanisms, ranging from frank perforation that seals spontaneously to CVC tip adhesion to the myocardium with diffusion into the pericardial space. Routine radiography should be performed, and the CVC tip should be readily identifiable. The CVC tip should remain outside the cardiac silhouette but still within the vena cavae (approximately 1 cm outside the cardiac silhouette in premature infants and 2 cm in term infants). A change in cardiothoracic ratio may be diagnostic of a PCE, and pericardiocentesis is associated with significantly reduced mortality. Increased awareness of this complication may decrease the mortality associated with CVC-related PCE.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight
  • Cardiac Tamponade / diagnosis
  • Cardiac Tamponade / etiology*
  • Catheterization, Central Venous / adverse effects*
  • Device Removal
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Pericardial Effusion / diagnosis
  • Pericardial Effusion / etiology*
  • Pericardial Effusion / surgery
  • Pericardiocentesis
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Venae Cavae / diagnostic imaging