Identification of suspected pericardial tamponade and the decision to perform invasive drainage of the pericardial space have historically been based on classic bedside findings. Two-dimensional echocardiography has improved detection of pericardial effusion, but it may be excessively sensitive in evaluation of patients for hemodynamic embarrassment. Therefore, 50 consecutive medical patients were examined who were identified by echocardiography to have probable tamponade (defined as the presence of right heart chamber collapse in the presence of a pericardial effusion) and who underwent combined right-sided cardiac catheterization and percutaneous pericardiocentesis. All patients had elevated pericardial pressure. However, many had minimal evidence of hemodynamic compromise (94% had systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 100 mm Hg and 58% had a cardiac index greater than or equal to 2.3 liters/min per m2). Pericardiocentesis resulted in hemodynamic improvement, but frequently did not alleviate dyspnea or correct tachycardia. Patients with malignancy as the cause of tamponade had a high mortality rate (the cumulative probability of survival in such patients was only 17% at 1 year). Echocardiographically assisted diagnosis of pericardial tamponade in medical patients results in the identification of a substantial subset of patients with only subtle evidence of hemodynamic compromise. This subset of patients differs sharply from medical patients described in previous reports with classic tamponade. Although the patients can be managed by invasive catheter pericardiocentesis with few complications, the natural history and the optimal management strategy for this group are not resolved.