What is a pericardiocentesis procedure like?

April 21, 2010

Pericardiocentesis is an invasive testing procedure which is also often called a pericardial tap. As the name suggests, this diagnostic procedure is performed in the pericardium or the outer sac like lining of the heart. This procedure involves using a catheter to remove the fluid from the pericardium. This fluid is taken out by a needle which is inserted into the catheter.

Once the fluid is collected, it is sent to a laboratory to be tested for an infection in the heart or signs of cancer. On certain occasions, the test may be also performed temporarily on the pericardium for the treatments of a heart condition known as cardiac tamponade. In this condition, there is a rapid buildup of fluid around the heart. This rapid fluid buildup can be life threatening and may put extreme pressure on the muscles of the heart. The increasing pressure causes the heart muscles to weaken, therefore weakening the pumping ability of the heart.

Usually the presence of fluid in the pericardium is an indication of the presence of an infection or in worse cases, cancer. If the person is suffering from cardiac tamponade, there could be mild symptoms like continual shortness of breath.

To prepare for pericardial tap, you will be asked to change into a hospital gown. If there are any precautions to be taken regarding your diet, the doctor or the nurse will intimate you about that. Your doctor will also specify some medications that you may have to take on the day of the procedure. However, if you are a diabetic, you may have to adjust some of your medication. The doctor will guide you on how to do this.

Depending on your health and other physical conditions, the test may take 20 to 60 minutes to be performed. During the test, the doctor will also give provide you with a mild sedative to relax. A local anesthetic will be used to numb the area on the chest where the procedure has to be performed. The doctor inserts a needle into the pericardial sac and passes a catheter through it.

You will be monitored for several hours after the procedure has been performed. This is done to make sure that the procedure has been successful. However, if even several hours later, there are no improvements, the doctors may decide to perform an invasive treatment on you.

Invasive, pericardiocentesis is generally a safe procedure. However, there are very minute chances of the procedure going wrong, since imaging is used to guide the entrance of the needle into your heart.. Some of the risks of the procedure are cardiac arrest, arrhythmias, puncture in the heart and heart attack.

Submitted by N S on April 21, 2010 at 12:51

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