Some people may have a cardiac monitor placed before the test to check for heart disturbances. Patches called electrodes will be placed on the chest, similar to during an ECG. A chest x-ray or ultrasound may be done before the test.
The skin of the chest will be cleaned with antibacterial soap. A trained physician, often a cardiologist, inserts a small needle into the chest between the ribs into the thin sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium). A small amount of fluid is removed.
You may have an ECG and chest x-ray after the test. Sometimes the pericardial fluid is taken during open heart surgery.
The sample is sent to a lab, where special techniques are used to grow bacteria in samples of the fluid. It can take a few hours to several weeks to get the test results, depending on the type of organism.
How to prepare for the test
You will be asked not to eat or drink anything for several hours before the test. You may have a chest x-ray or ultrasound before the test to identify the area of fluid collection.
How the test will feel
You will feel some pressure and discomfort when the needle is inserted into the chest and the fluid is removed. Your doctor should be able to give you pain medicine so that the procedure does not hurt very much.
Why the test is performed
Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of a heart infection or if you have pericardial effusion.
A normal result means no infectious organisms are found in the fluid sample.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results may be due to an infection of the pericardium. The specific organism causing the infection may be identified. Additional tests may be needed to determine the most effective treatments.
What the risks are
Complications are rare but include:
Heart or lung puncture
Daniel Levy, MD, Infectious Disease, Maryland Family Care, Lutherville , MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.