Pericardial windows have limited diagnostic success

J Cardiothorac Surg. 2018 Jul 18;13(1):87. doi: 10.1186/s13019-018-0774-x.


Background: Pericardial effusion (PE) is a common finding in patients who have chronic cardiac failure, who had undergone cardiac surgery, or who have certain other benign and malignant diseases. Pericardial drainage procedures are often requested for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. The perceived benefit is that it allows for diagnosis of malignancy or infection for patients with PEs of unclear etiology. The purpose of the study is to determine the diagnostic yield of surgical drainage procedures.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective chart review of patients who underwent surgical drainage procedures of PEs from July 1st, 2011 to January 1st, 2017 at a single institution. The variables included data on preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative findings; morbidity; and survival.

Results: A total of 145 patients with an average age of 61 ± 5 and primarily men (53%) were evaluated. All of the surgical drainage procedures were performed through the sub-xiphoid approach. Twenty-five of the 145 patients (17.2%) had diagnostic findings in either the pericardial tissue or fluid. The cytology alone was diagnostic in 4.8% (N = 7) of patients with mixed findings including adenocarcinoma of the lung and breast. The pathology was diagnostic for cancer in 1.4% (N = 2) of patients with Melanoma and Lung cancer identified. The cytology and pathology were concordant in 4.0% (N = 6) identifying cancers that included mesothelioma and adenocarcinoma. Infection was identified in the pericardial fluid in 6.9% (N = 10) of the patients.

Conclusion: Surgical pericardial drainage procedures allow for removal of PE that may lead to tamponade physiology and potential mortality. Although there is therapeutic benefit from these procedures there is only a small diagnostic benefit.

Keywords: Drainage; Effusion; Tamponade.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pericardial Effusion / mortality
  • Pericardial Effusion / surgery*
  • Pericardial Window Techniques / adverse effects*
  • Pericardium / pathology
  • Pericardium / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate
  • Treatment Outcome