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"Blind" pericardiocentesis: A comparison of different puncture directions.

BACKGROUND: "Blind" pericardiocentesis is the standard procedure for emergency pericardial drainage when ultrasound guidance is unavailable. Under these circumstances, puncture site and needle direction are exclusively oriented according to certain anatomic landmarks. In the literature, different techniques for this "blind" method have been described. Goal of this retrospective study was to compare the potential success and complication rate of 13 simulated puncture directions.

METHODS: Simulated pericardiocentesis was performed in 150 CT scans from patients with moderate to severe pericardial effusions (greater than 1 cm distance between epicardium and pericardium). Thirteen different puncture techniques with varying puncture sites, direction of the puncture, and the angle were compared. A simulated pericardiocentesis was classified as "successful" when the effusion was reached. It was classified as "successful without a complication" when no adjacent structure was penetrated by the simulated puncture (lung, liver, internal thoracic artery, LAD, colon, and stomach). An attempt was declared as "unsuccessful" when the pericardial effusion was not reached at all, or the reached effusion measured less than 0.5 cm between the epicardium and pericardium at the location where the needle entered the pericardium.

RESULTS: A subxiphoidal puncture technique starting in Larrey's triangle (sternocostal triangle) and directed toward the left midclavicular point with a 30° inclination resulted in the highest success rate (131 of 150 cases = 87%). In parallel the lowest complication rate (7 of 150 = 5%) was found using this technique, as well. In contrast, pericardiocentesis performed using other puncture directions resulted in lower success (66%-85%) and higher complication rates (9%-31%).

CONCLUSION: This CT-based simulation study revealed that blind pericardiocentesis guided by anatomical landmarks only is best performed in a subxiphoid approach with a needle direction to the left midclavicular point with a 30° inclination. Nevertheless, injury of adjacent structures occurred frequently (5%) even when applying this puncture technique. Thus, blind pericardiocentesis can be performed with a high success rate and seems adequate to be performed under emergency conditions. However, planned procedures should be performed under image guidance.

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