What is fluid around the heart?

Written by laura latzko
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A build-up of fluid around the membrane that surrounds the heart is known as pericarditis. This condition can be life-threatening because if left untreated it can lead to heart failure, according to the Mayo Clinic.


Although a person generally has some fluid in her pericardium, the saclike membrane around the heart, a build-up of fluid or blood from an infection, disease or injury can cause inflammation in the pericardium.

Risk Factors

Pericarditis is most common among men between 20 and 50 years old, according to MedlinePlus. The risk of developing it increases among people with an autoimmune disorder, cancer, HIV or AIDs, or who experience a heart attack, kidney failure, infections or an injury to the heart or oesophagus. Other risk factors include chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


Pericarditis often causes swollen legs, ankles or feet; breathing problems; chest pain; tiredness; dizziness; a fever; problems swallowing and/or an increased heart rate.


An echocardiogram uses sound waves to measure the functionality of the heart and surrounding structures. Doctors also use imaging tests, such as a chest X-ray, a magnetic resonance imaging scan or a computed tomography scan, to get computerised images of the heart. Sometimes they perform an electrocardiogram, which is used to measure electric impulses moving to and from the heart.


Anti-inflammatory medications, analgesics or antibiotics are often prescribed to treat pericarditis. For more severe forms, doctors perform surgical procedures, such as pericardiocentesis, open heart surgery or intrapericardial sclerosis, to remove fluids or blood around the pericardium or to repair it.

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