Pericardiocentesis, also called a pericardial tap, is an invasive procedure in which a needle and catheter remove fluid from the sac around the heart. The fluid is tested for signs of infection, inflammation, presence of blood, and cancer.
Occasionally, pericardiocentesis is performed on an emergency basis to treat a condition called cardiac tamponade, a life-threatening, rapid buildup of fluid around the heart that weakens its pumping ability. The procedure relieves pressure on the heart.
In the movies, you never doubt when a man's having a heart attack. He clutches his chest, screams, or moans, and falls to the ground. If he's lucky, help is on its way.
In real life, the signs aren't always so clear. Some people do experience Hollywood-type symptoms, says Mohamud Daya, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. But others don’t. “Some people say they just feel uneasy discomfort or vague discomfort, not pain that really hurts...
You will be given a mild sedative to relax you, but you will be awake and conscious during the entire procedure.
An IV (intravenous) line is inserted in your hand or arm in case fluids or medications are needed.
The doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb an area on your chest. A needle will be inserted and then a catheter (a thin plastic tube) will be threaded into the pericardial sac around your heart. The doctor may use an X-ray or echocardiography machine to make sure the catheter is positioned correctly. The doctor will drain the fluid that has collected around your heart.
When the fluid has been removed, the catheter may be removed. Sometimes it is left in place for more drainage.
A pericardiocentesis takes about 20 to 60 minutes to perform.