Postoperative cardiac tamponade in the modern surgical era

Ann Thorac Surg. 2002 Oct;74(4):1148-53. doi: 10.1016/s0003-4975(02)03837-7.


Background: Pericardial effusions resulting in cardiac tamponade (CT) are uncommon after open heart surgery (OHS) and are associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Characteristics and outcomes of patients who develop postoperative CT are poorly defined. Our objective was to further analyze the population at risk for developing postoperative CT, identify potential perioperative and surgical risk factors, and evaluate the impact of CT on patient outcomes.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of 4,561 consecutive patients undergoing OHS at our institution was performed. Patients with clinical suspicion of pericardial effusion following surgery were evaluated by transthoracic or transesophageal echocardiography, and clinical parameters were analyzed.

Results: Forty-eight (1%) of the 4,561 patients were found to have echocardiographic evidence of a moderate or large pericardial effusion, of whom 36 (74%) had evidence of CT. The mean age of the patients with CT was 61 years. Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) had been performed in 24% of these patients, valve +/- CABG in 73%, and other OHS procedures in 3%. The incidence of CT following CABG alone was 0.2%, whereas it was 0.6% after valve +/- CABG. Females had a higher risk for developing CT, and this occurred earlier in the postoperative period when compared with men. Aspirin, heparin, or warfarin were given to 84% of patients within 3 days of surgery. Mean time to diagnosis of CT was 10 +/- 1 days after OHS. Prior to diagnosis of CT, the maximum international normalized ratio (INR) and partial thromboplastin time (PTT) were 2.7 +/- 0.3 and 68 +/- 5 seconds, respectively. Forty-nine percent of pericardial effusions were posterior and 46% were circumferential; one-third of the effusions were considered large by echocardiography. There was one in-hospital cardiovascular death.

Conclusions: CT after OHS is more common following valve surgery than CABG alone and may be related to the preoperative use of anticoagulants. Females appear to be at higher risk for developing early postoperative CT. When diagnosed and treated promptly, postoperative CT should not significantly increase mortality.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures*
  • Cardiac Tamponade / diagnostic imaging
  • Cardiac Tamponade / etiology*
  • Coronary Artery Bypass
  • Echocardiography
  • Echocardiography, Transesophageal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pericardial Effusion
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors