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Cardiac tamponade. A clinical or an echocardiographic diagnosis?

Circulation 1993 May
In most patients, cardiac tamponade should be diagnosed by a clinical examination that shows elevated systemic venous pressure, tachycardia, dyspnea, and paradoxical arterial pulse. Systemic blood pressure may be normal, decreased, or even elevated. The diagnosis is confirmed by echocardiographic demonstration of moderately large or large circumferential pericardial effusion and in most instances, of right atrial compression, abnormal respiratory variation in right and left ventricular dimensions, and in tricuspid and mitral valve flow velocities. Pulsus paradoxus may be absent with left ventricular dysfunction, atrial septal defect, regional tamponade, and positive-pressure breathing. Systemic venous pressure may be normal with localized tamponade of the left atrium or ventricle. Patients with moderately large or large pericardial effusions may have echocardiographic evidence of right atrial compression without clinical signs of elevated venous pressure or pulsus paradoxus. The majority of these patients have mild or moderate tamponade and if not subjected to pericardial drainage, should be observed closely. In some of these patients, when the etiology is known and the disease can be treated effectively with medication, e.g., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents or adrenal corticosteroids in Dressler's syndrome or relapsing pericarditis, pericardial drainage may not be necessary.

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