Pericardial Fluid Analysis

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Formal name: Pericardial Fluid Analysis

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To help diagnose the cause of inflammation of the pericardium and/or fluid accumulation around the heart

When to Get Tested?

When a doctor suspects that someone has a condition associated with inflammation of the pericardium and/or fluid accumulation around the heart

Sample Required?

A sample of fluid collected by a doctor from the pericardial sac using a procedure called a pericardiocentesis

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Pericardial fluid is a liquid that acts as a lubricant for the movement of the heart. It is found in small quantities between the two layers of the pericardium. Pericardial fluid is produced by mesothelial cells in the membranes and reduces friction as the heart pumps blood.

A variety of conditions and diseases can cause inflammation of the pericardium (pericarditis) and/or excessive accumulation of pericardial fluid (pericardial effusion). Pericardial fluid analysis is a group of tests used to help find the cause of the problem. There are two main reasons why fluid may collect in the pericardial space:

  • Fluid may accumulate because of an imbalance between the pressure within blood vessels—which drives fluid out of blood vessels—and the amount of protein in blood—which keeps fluid in blood vessels. The fluid that accumulates in this case is called a transudate. Transudates are most often caused by cirrhosis of the liver or congestive heart failure.
  • Fluid accumulation may be caused by injury or inflammation of the peritoneum, in which case the fluid is called an exudate. This type of fluid may be the result of conditions such as infection, cancer (metastatic cancer, lymphoma, mesothelioma), rheumatoid disease, or systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • It is important to distinguish between the two types of fluid because it helps diagnose the disease or condition. Doctors use an initial set of tests (cell count, protein or albumin and appearance of the fluid) to distinguish between transudates and exudates. Once the sort of fluid has been identified, additional tests may be done to help pinpoint the disease or condition causing pericarditis and/or pericardial effusion.

    How is the sample collected for testing?

    A sample of fluid is collected from the pericardial sac by a doctor with a syringe and needle using a procedure called a pericardiocentesis.

    NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

    Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

    Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

    No special preparation is usually needed.

    The Test

    Common Questions

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    NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.