Inflammation of the pericardium (pericarditis) is a response to disease, injury or an inflammatory disorder that affects the pericardium. Pericardial effusion is often a sign of this inflammatory response.

Pericardial effusion may also occur when the flow of pericardial fluids is blocked or when blood accumulates within the pericardium. It's not clear how some diseases contribute to pericardial effusion, and sometimes the cause can't be determined.

Specific causes of pericardial effusion may include:

  • Viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections
  • Inflammation of the pericardium due to unknown cause (idiopathic pericarditis)
  • Inflammation of the pericardium following heart surgery or a heart attack (Dressler's syndrome)
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • Waste products in the blood due to kidney failure (uremia)
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism))
  • Spread of cancer (metastasis), particularly lung cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or Hodgkin's disease
  • Cancer of the pericardium or heart
  • Radiation therapy for cancer if the heart was within the field of radiation
  • Chemotherapy treatment for cancer, such as doxorubicin (Doxil) and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
  • Trauma or puncture wound near the heart
  • Certain prescription drugs, including hydralazine, a medication for high blood pressure; isoniazid, a tuberculosis drug; and phenytoin (Dilantin, Phenytek, others), a medication for epileptic seizures
Aug. 01, 2013