Traumatic pericardial effusion: Impact of diagnostic and surgical approaches

Yao Kuang Huang*, Ming Shian Lu, Kuo Sheng Liu, Erh Hao Liu, Jaw Ji Chu, Feng Chun Tsai, Pyng Jing Lin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

19 Scopus citations


Introduction: In trauma patients with chest injuries, traumatic pericardial effusion is an important scenario to consider because of its close linkage to cardiac injury. Even with advances in imaging, diagnosis remains a challenge and use of which surgical approach is controversial. This study reviews the treatment algorithm, surgical outcomes, and predictors of mortality for traumatic pericardial effusion. Patients and methods: Information on demographics, mechanisms of trauma, injury scores, diagnostic tools, surgical procedures, associated injuries, and hospital events were collected retrospectively from a tertiary trauma center. Results: Between June 2003 and December 2009, 31 patients (23 males and 8 females) with a median age of 31 (range 16-77), who had undergone surgical drainage of pericardial effusion were enrolled in the study. Blunt trauma accounted for 27 (87.1%) insults, and penetrating injury accounted for 4 (12.9%). Patients were diagnosed by Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma (FAST) (8 patients), computerized tomography (7 patients), echocardiography (9 patients), and incidentally during surgery (7 patients). Notably, sixteen (51.7%) patients required surgical repair for traumatic cardiac ruptures, including 6 (19.6%) with pericardial defects who presented initially with hemothorax. The surgical approaches were subxiphoid in 8 patients (25.8%), thoracotomy in 7 (22.6%), and sternotomy in 19 (61.2%), including 3 conversions from thoracotomy. The survival to discharge rate was 77.4% (24/31). Concomitant cardiac repair, associated pericardial defects, and initial surgical approach did not affect survival, but the need for massive transfusion, cardiopulmonary cerebral resuscitation (CPCR), trauma score, and incidental discovery at surgery all had a significant impact on the outcome. Conclusions: Precise diagnoses of traumatic pericardial effusions are still challenging and easily omitted even with FAST, repeat cardiac echo and CT. The number of patients with traumatic pericardial effusion requiring surgical repair is high. Standardized therapeutic protocol, different surgical approaches have not impact on survival. Correct identification, prompt drainage, and preparedness for concomitant cardiac repair seem to be the key to better outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1682-1686
Number of pages5
Issue number12
StatePublished - 12 2010


  • Cardiac rupture
  • FAST
  • Pericardial effusion
  • Trauma


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