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What causes fluid around the heart?

Updated May 10, 2017

Too much fluid around the heart is called pericardial effusion. The pericardium is a fluid-filled sac that surrounds the heart. There is normally a small amount of fluid in this space. Excess fluid, including blood, can build up in this area and put pressure on the heart muscle. This can lead to shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing, weakness, irregular heart rhythm and fever. In some cases, the cause can be determined, but in other cases the cause remains unknown.

Diseases Causing Fluid Around the Heart

Excess fluid around the heart can be because of an illness that causes inflammation. This can include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, HIV/AIDS and some types of cancer. Viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections can also create extra fluid.

Thyroid Disease: Causing Fluid Around the Heart

Having an underactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism, can also contribute to this condition. Decreased activity of the thyroid can lead to increased levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and a possible change in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which places a strain on the heart.

Medical Procedures Causing Fluid Around the Heart

Inflammation of the pericardium can occur after a heart attack or heart surgery. Treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy have also been linked to pericardial effusion.

Medications May Cause Fluid Buildup Around the Heart

Certain medications may put you at a higher risk for fluid around the heart. The most common medications to watch for are hydralazine (used to treat high blood pressure), isoniazid (used for tuberculosis) and phenytoin (used to control epileptic seizures).

Other Causes of Fluid Build Up Around the Heart

A condition called uremia can cause too much fluid build-up. Uremia occurs when waste products accumulate in the blood because of kidney failure. Pericarditis also seems to occur in some patients on dialysis.

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About the Author

I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.