Facilitated pericardial drainage

October 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Acute Med, All Updates, Resus

Drs Wyatt and Haugh describe a modified resuscitative thoracotomy technique which provided surgically facilitated pericardial drainage. A patient with a ruptured pseudoaneurysm of the right ventricular outflow tract presented in shock and arrested in the ED. She had had a prior history of idiopathic ventricular tachycardia and had undergone cardiac ablation of the posteroseptal wall of the right ventricular outflow tract. Sonographically identified tamponade was treated with pericardiocentesis which failed due to clotted blood, so a left lateral thoracotomy was performed by the emergency physician. Rather than fully expose the heart for repair in the ED, they elected to just make a 2cm incision in the pericardium which allowed drainage of blood and restoration of circulation. This was combined with blood product transfusion to buy time for the arrival of a cardiothoracic surgeon and transfer to the operating room.

Useful learning points from this paper are:

  • Ablation procedures are becoming more common
  • Serious complications such as atrioesophageal fistula, pseudoaneurysm, pericardial effusion, and cardiac tamponade occur approximately 3% of the time
  • When tamponade is suspected or confirmed ask patient about recent cardiac procedures such as catheterisations, surgery, and ablation procedures
  • Radiofrequency ablation procedures are often performed on the right side of the heart in areas that may be relatively inaccessible from a left-sided lateral thoracotomy approach.

Modified Emergency Department Thoracotomy for Postablation Cardiac Tamponade
Ann Emerg Med. 2012 Apr;59(4):265-7


Cardiac dysrhythmias are a common problem in the United States. Radiofrequency ablation is being used more frequently as a treatment for these diagnoses. Although rare, serious complications such as cardiac tamponade have been reported as a result of ablation procedures. Traditionally, emergency department (ED) thoracotomy has been reserved for cases of traumatic arrest only. We report a case of a successful modified ED thoracotomy in a patient with postablation cardiac tamponade and subsequent obstructive shock who failed intravenous fluid resuscitation, pressor administration, and multiple attempts at pericardiocentesis. In this case, a modified approach was used to incise the pericardium. Although this was associated with large blood loss, we believed that using the traditional method of completely removing the pericardium would have resulted in uncontrolled hemorrhage. Instead, our method led to successful resuscitation of the patient until definitive care was available. A smaller pericardial incision than is traditionally used during ED thoracotomy deserves further consideration and research to determine whether and when it may be most useful as a temporizing treatment of cardiac tamponade when other methods have failed.

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One Response to “Facilitated pericardial drainage”

  1. toracotomy with pericardial drainage « DAILYEM on October 11th, 2012 08:40

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