Q1. Describe the ECG findings. What investigation is indicated?
The rhythm is sinus tachycardia at 100/min and the axis is normal.
The investigation indicated is an echocardiogram to confirm the presence of a pericardial effusion and to look for echocardiographic evidence of pericardial tamponade.
Q2. You ring the cardiologist to arrange the investigation in question urgently and he asks you to assess the degree of pulsus paradoxus.
What is pulsus paradoxus and what are the potential causes of this phenomenon?
- pericardial tamponade
- hypovolaemia (especially during positive pressure ventilation)
- acute asthma
- massive pulmonary embolism
On the cardiologist’s advice you assess the degree of pulsus paradoxus and no significant respiratory variation in systolic pressure is present.
Check that the R-R interval on the ECG is regular to rule out arhymthmia as the cause of a fluctuating systolic blood pressure.
Q3. You run into difficulty getting the investigation you have requested in a timely fashion because the cardiologist argues that the absence of pulsus paradoxus is reassuring.
Is he right?
- Pericardial adhesions (particularly over the right heart)
- impede volume changes
- Severe left ventricular failure or marked left ventricular hypertrophy
- in these circumstances the pericardial pressure effectively equilibrates only with the right heart pressures with the much less compliant left ventricle resisting phasically changing pericardial pressure
- Right ventricular hypertrophy without pulmonary hypertension
- causes right-sided resistance to the effects of breathing
- Atrial septal defects
- increased venous return balanced by shunting to the left atrium
- Severe aortic regurgitation
- produces sufficient regurgitant flow to damp down respiratory fluctuations
- Spodick DH. Acute cardiac tamponade. N Engl J Med. 2003 Aug 14;349(7):684-90. PMID: 12917306.