Q:

What does it mean when you have fluid around the heart?

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Quick Answer

According to WebMD, fluid around the heart can indicate pericardial effusion, which is also known as pericarditis. Fluid fills the sac surrounding the heart, the pericardium, and causes symptoms including fever, fatigue and shortness of breath. Viral infections are the leading cause of pericarditis, but there are other, less-common causes that patients can suffer from.

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Full Answer

The Mayo Clinic explains that the pericardium usually contains two or three tablespoons of pericardial fluid, which allows the heart to move freely as it beats. Small pericardial effusions may contain up to 100 millilitres of fluid, whereas more severe cases can involve as much as 2 liters. Pericardial effusions usually occur as a result of inflammation, which causes excess fluid production. Viruses like coxsackievirus and HIV are among the leading causes. Other causes include autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, a reaction to heart surgery, underactive thyroid or trauma to the heart.

Patients suffering from pericarditis experience a range of symptoms, explains the Mayo Clinic, including feeling short of breath, feeling uncomfortable when lying down or chest pain at any time, coughing, a low-grade fever, fainting and a rapid heart rate. Patients experiencing these symptoms should see a physician, and those who experience chest pain and difficulty breathing should call 911, as such symptoms can indicate a cardiac emergency.

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