Pericardial effusion is an accumulation of fluid in the sac surrounding the heart.  If enough fluid is present, it can put pressure on the heart and cause dysfunction.  Symptoms might include collapse, seizure, fainting, weakness, abdominal enlargement, trouble breathing, coughing or sudden death.  An echocardiogram (ultrasound examination) is the best method for diagnosing it and looking for underlying causes such as tumors or heart disease.  As there are many other causes of effusion, other tests to evaluate the problem are recommended as well.

Treatment consists of relieving the pericardial sac of its fluid with a needle to permit the heart to function properly.  In experienced hands, this procedure usually goes smoothly but can rarely result in development of an irregular heart beat, bleeding, lung puncture or death.  If an underlying cause is identified, specific treatment for that will begin as well.  However, many times a specific cause is not discovered and the disease is termed idiopathic.  Pericardial fluid may recur periodically and require drainage repeatedly.  If frequent drainage becomes necessary, a procedure to remove the pericardial sac may be suggested to allow any more fluid accumulations to be more easily accessed by diuretics.