Pericardial effusion differential diagnosis

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor-In-Chief: Abdelrahman Ibrahim Abushouk, MD[2]

Overview

Most pericardial effusions are caused by inflammation of the pericardium, a condition called pericarditis. As the pericardium becomes inflamed, extra fluid is produced, leading to a pericardial effusion. Viral infections are one of the main causes of pericarditis and pericardial effusions. Infections causing pericardial effusions include cytomegalovirus, coxsackie virus, echovirus, and HIV. However, other conditions like injury to the pericardium or heart from a medical procedure, myocardial infarction, uremia, autoimmune disease and cancer should be considered in differential diagnosis of pericardial effusion.

Differentiating Pericardial Effusion from other Diseases

Chest pain or pressure are common symptoms. A small effusion may be asymptomatic. Larger effusions may cause cardiac tamponade, a life-threatening complication and the signs of impending tamponade include dyspnea, low blood pressure, and distant heart sounds. There are several other cardiac insults with similar symptoms that should be considered in differential diagnosis of pericardial effusion[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20]:

Diseases Diagnostic tests Physical Examination Symptoms Past medical history Other Findings
CT scan and MRI EKG Chest X-ray Tachypnea Tachycardia Fever Chest Pain Hemoptysis Dyspnea on Exertion Wheezing Chest Tenderness Nasalopharyngeal Ulceration Carotid Bruit
Pulmonary embolism
  • On CT angiography:
    • Intra-luminal filling defect
  • On MRI:
    • Narrowing of involved vessel
    • No contrast seen distal to obstruction
    • Polo-mint sign (partial filling defect surrounded by contrast)
✔ (Low grade) ✔ (In case of massive PE) - - - -
Congestive heart failure
  • Goldberg's criteria may aid in diagnosis of left ventricular dysfunction: (High specificity)
    • SV1 or SV2 + RV5 or RV6 ≥3.5 mV
    • Total QRS amplitude in each of the limb leads ≤0.8 mV
    • R/S ratio <1 in lead V4
- - - - - -
Percarditis
  • ST elevation
  • PR depression
  • Large collection of fluid inside the pericardial sac (pericardial effusion)
  • Calcification of pericardial sac
✔ (Low grade) ✔ (Relieved by sitting up and leaning forward) - - - - -
  • May be clinically classified into:
    • Acute (< 6 weeks)
    • Sub-acute (6 weeks - 6 months)
    • Chronic (> 6 months)
Pneumonia - - - -
Vasculitis

Homogeneous, circumferential vessel wall swelling

-
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • On CT scan:
  • On MRI:
    • Increased diameter of pulmonary arteries
    • Peripheral pulmonary vasculature attentuation
    • Loss of retrosternal airspace due to right ventricular enlargement
    • Hyperpolarized Helium MRI may show progressively poor ventilation and destruction of lung
- - - - - -


References

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