Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your doctor will do a series of tests to look for pericardial effusion, identify possible causes and determine treatment. For some of the exams, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist.

Medical exam

Your doctor will perform a medical exam. In particular, he or she will listen to your heart with a stethoscope. If your pericardium is inflamed, your doctor may hear a high-pitched, scratchy sound called a friction rub. If there's a large amount of fluid accumulated, your heartbeat may be muffled or sound distant.

Echocardiogram

A commonly used test to diagnose pericardial effusion is an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create real-time images of your heart. With this procedure, a cardiologist can see the extent of pericardial effusion based on the amount of space present between the two layers of the pericardium. An echocardiogram can also show decreased heart function due to pressure on the heart (tamponade). Your cardiologist may be able to see whether one or more chambers of the heart have collapsed and how efficiently your heart is pumping blood. There are two types of echocardiograms:

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram. This device uses a sound-emitting device (transducer) that is placed on your chest over your heart.
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram. This type of echocardiogram uses a tiny transducer on a tube that's inserted down your the part of the digestive tract that runs from the throat to the stomach (esophagus). Because the esophagus lies close to the heart, having the transducer placed there often provides a more detailed image of the heart.

Electrocardiogram

An electrocardiogram — also called an ECG or EKG — records electrical signals as they travel through your heart. Your cardiologist can look for patterns among these signals that suggest tamponade.

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray may show an enlarged silhouette of your heart if the amount of fluid in the pericardium is large.

Other imaging technologies

Computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are imaging technologies that can detect pericardial effusion, although they're not generally used to look for the disorder. However, pericardial effusion may be diagnosed when these tests are done for other reasons.

Other tests

If your doctor finds evidence of pericardial effusion, he or she may order blood tests or other diagnostic tests to identify an underlying cause.

Aug. 01, 2013