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The role of early contrast-enhanced chest computed tomography in the aetiological diagnosis of patients presenting with cardiac tamponade or large pericardial effusion.

AIMS: The role of chest computed tomography (CT) is not well defined for either diagnosis or management of pericardial disease. The aim of this study was to evaluate the added value of early chest CT in the diagnostic workup for patients presenting with cardiac tamponade or large pericardial effusion of unknown aetiology as the first manifestation of disease.

METHODS AND RESULTS: We performed CT scan on 55 patients with pericardial effusion as defined above, undergoing echo-guided pericardiocentesis. We compared the success rate in making diagnosis and/or staging the underlying disorder of three sequential workups, including, respectively, (i) clinical presentation, inflammatory markers, chest X-ray imaging, (ii) all of the above and pericardial fluid analysis, and (iii) all of the above and chest CT. We were able to make diagnosis in 53 patients (96%): the major cause of effusion was malignancy (38%). Clinical and biochemical data were not able to differentiate non-tumour from tumour patients. CT revealed pathological findings in all patients with malignancy: tumour mass in 15/21 (71%) and pathological lymphadenopathy in the remaining 6 cases. The workup including CT provided a significantly higher diagnostic yield than the other two workups (P < 0.0001), both in the overall population and in the two subgroups of neoplastic (Npl) and non-Npl patients.

CONCLUSION: In all patients with cardiac tamponade or large pericardial effusion, CT was useful either in identifying the underlying disease or in excluding other potential causes of pericardial effusion. We conclude that chest CT is a very useful non-invasive diagnostic tool to identify and stage pericardial diseases.

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