Eighteen patients with cardiac tamponade were treated by subxiphoid pericardiotomy performed with the patients under local anesthesia. This group included 9 cases of uremic pericarditis (50%), 5 cases of metastatic cancer (28%), 2 cases of trauma (11%), 1 case of tuberculosis (5.5%), and 1 case of unknown cause. Immediate relief from acute cardiac tamponade was obtained in all 18 cases with only minor and self-limiting postoperative complications, including transient supraventricular arrhythmias (five cases) and fever (five cases). There were no deaths related to either the operative procedure or reaccumulation of the pericardial effusion. The drainage period averaged 9.6 days (range, three to 28 days). Pericardial biopsy was performed in 15 of 18 cases. We conclude that subxiphoid pericardiotomy is a safe and effective method for the management of pericardial effusion of diverse causes. The ability to perform this technique safely using local anesthesia and the capacity to obtain a biopsy specimen under direct visualization make this technique superior to both needle pericardiocentesis and pericardiectomy in the acutely ill patient.