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ObjectivePericardiocentesis is a life-saving procedure associated with a small, but significant, risk of major complication. An apical or subcostal approach may be used, although the relative complication rates are not reported. In modern practice, an increasing proportion of pericardial effusions occur as a result of catheter-laboratory related complications. This study examines current practice and analyzes the complications of pericardial drainage according to the route of approach.DesignHistorical cohort study.SettingFour Oxfordshire hospitals, including the John Radcliffe Hospital, a tertiary referral center.PatientsLocal databases were searched to identify percutaneous pericardiocenteses carried out between November 2002 and October 2009.ResultsA total of 188 pericardiocenteses were performed in 163 patients. Malignancy (55; 33.7%) and catheter-based cardiac procedures (45; 23.9%) were the most common causes of pericardial effusions requiring drainage. 50.0% of all pericardiocenteses were performed in patients who had received anticoagulant or antiplatelet agents the same day. This rose to 93.7% in patients whose effusions occurred as a complication of a catheter-based procedure. Nine complications occurred during the study period, giving an overall complication rate of 4.8%. Six of the complications occurred via the subcostal route and all 4 complications requiring surgery occurred via the subcostal route.ConclusionThe numbers of iatrogenic pericardial effusions occurring as a complication of catheter-based procedures mean that a significant proportion of pericardiocenteses are being performed in anticoagulated patients. This may alter the risk profile. Although complication rates were low for both routes, all major complications requiring surgery occurred via the subcostal approach. These data suggest an apical approach may be preferable where practical.



The Journal of invasive cardiology

Publication Date





234 - 239


Cardiology Department, Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, United Kingdom.


Humans, Pericardial Effusion, Pericardiocentesis, Treatment Outcome, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Middle Aged, Female, Male, Young Adult