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Heart Disease Health Center

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Pericardial Drainage


Pericardial drainage can be a risky procedure, though few serious or life-threatening complications occur when it is performed by an experienced doctor. It is possible for the needle to puncture your heart or one of your blood vessels. In rare cases, the needle may also puncture your lung, your liver, or your stomach. These complications may require surgery to repair.

If the needle touches your heart, you may have an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), but the irregularity usually stops when the needle is removed. In rare cases, this type of arrhythmia can cause death. There is also a slight chance of spreading infection from the skin to the pericardial space when the needle is inserted.

After the test

After leaving the hospital, call911or other emergency services immediately if you have:

Call your doctor immediately if you:

  • Vomit blood.
  • Have a fever.
  • Are short of breath.
  • Feel dizzy.
  • Have lower-than-normal blood pressure.


Pericardial drainage (pericardiocentesis) is done to find the cause of fluid buildup around the heart and to relieve pressure on the heart. The excess fluid removed during the pericardial drainage will be sent to a laboratory for analysis. Some results will be available within hours, while others may take days or weeks.

Pericardial drainage

No bacteria, red blood cells, or cancer cells are present in the pericardial fluid.

No white blood cells (WBCs) are in pericardial fluid.

The pericardial fluid is clear or pale yellow.

Sugar (glucose) is present, but in amounts similar to that found in the blood.

There is less than 50 mL (2 fl oz) of fluid in the pericardial sac.


The pericardial fluid contains blood, bacteria, or cancer cells.

White blood cells are in the pericardial fluid.

The pericardial fluid looks cloudy.

There is more than 50 mL (2 fl oz) of fluid in the pericardial sac.

Abnormal values

A buildup of pericardial fluid may be caused by:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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