Pericardial effusion laboratory studies

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor-In-Chief: Varun Kumar, M.B.B.S.


Laboratory investigations for pericardial effusion include the leukocyte count, C-reactive protein, and ESR for ruling out inflammatory causes. The cardiac troponin is elevated if there is an injury to the underlying myocardium, a condition termed as myopericarditis. Diagnostic pericardiocentesis and biopsy help in identifying an underlying infectious or malignant process.

Laboratory Findings

Inflammatory Markers

The following inflammatory markers are often elevated in inflammatory condtions of the pericardium:

Cardiac Biomarkers

The following markers of myonecrosis may be elevated if there is involvement of the underlying myocardium:

Autoimmune Markers

Following autoimmune markers may be checked in patients with recurrent or prolonged pericarditis:

Gallium-67 Imaging

Gallium-67 scanning may help identify inflammatory and leukemic infiltrations.

Diagnostic Pericardiocentesis

Pericardiocentesis is a relatively safe procedure when guided by echocardiography, especially when large free anterior pericardial effusion is present. Pericardial fluid should be aspirated and tested for the presence of malignant cells and tumor markers, particularly in patients with hemorrhagic effusion without preceding trauma.[5] However, hemorrhagic pericarditis in developing countries could be due to tuberculosis. Sensitivity of cytological analysis of pericardial fluid for malignant cells was 67%,[6] 75%,[7] and 92%[8] in different studies with specificity of 100%. Immunohistochemistry can be used to distinguish between the malignant cells and their possible origin.[9][10]
Aspirated fluid can also be used for the following tests:

Pericardial Biopsy

If the clinical suspicion of malignancy is high, and if the results of cytology testing from the pericardiocentesis are negative, consideration should be given to performing a pericardial biopsy. This can be performed via either a subxiphoid or transthoracic pericardiostomy or alternatively by pericardioscopy. Advantages of pericardioscopy include helping to directly visualize the pericardium as well as helping to collect the biopsy sample. Pericardioscopy has an excellent sensitivity of 97%,[7][11] which compares quite favorably to a blind biopsy which has a low sensitivity of 55-65%.


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  2. Karjalainen J, Heikkila J (1986). ""Acute pericarditis": myocardial enzyme release as evidence for myocarditis". Am Heart J. 111 (3): 546–52. doi:10.1016/0002-8703(86)90062-1. PMID 3953365.
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  5. Atar S, Chiu J, Forrester JS, Siegel RJ (1999). "Bloody pericardial effusion in patients with cardiac tamponade: is the cause cancerous, tuberculous, or iatrogenic in the 1990s?". Chest. 116 (6): 1564–9. PMID 10593777.
  6. Wiener HG, Kristensen IB, Haubek A, Kristensen B, Baandrup U (1991). "The diagnostic value of pericardial cytology. An analysis of 95 cases". Acta Cytol. 35 (2): 149–53. PMID 2028688.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Porte HL, Janecki-Delebecq TJ, Finzi L, Métois DG, Millaire A, Wurtz AJ (1999). "Pericardoscopy for primary management of pericardial effusion in cancer patients". Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 16 (3): 287–91. PMID 10554845.
  8. Meyers DG, Meyers RE, Prendergast TW (1997). "The usefulness of diagnostic tests on pericardial fluid". Chest. 111 (5): 1213–21. PMID 9149572.
  9. Gong Y, Sun X, Michael CW, Attal S, Williamson BA, Bedrossian CW (2003). "Immunocytochemistry of serous effusion specimens: a comparison of ThinPrep vs cell block". Diagn Cytopathol. 28 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1002/dc.10219. PMID 12508174.
  10. Mayall F, Heryet A, Manga D, Kriegeskotten A (1997). "p53 immunostaining is a highly specific and moderately sensitive marker of malignancy in serous fluid cytology". Cytopathology. 8 (1): 9–12. PMID 9068950.
  11. Nugue O, Millaire A, Porte H, de Groote P, Guimier P, Wurtz A; et al. (1996). "Pericardioscopy in the etiologic diagnosis of pericardial effusion in 141 consecutive patients". Circulation. 94 (7): 1635–41. PMID 8840855.

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