This information is for patients who did not have open heart surgery.
What is the pericardium?
The pericardium is a sac that surrounds the
heart. It holds just enough fluid to pad and
lubricate the heart muscle. Disease,
infection, or injury can cause fluid to build
up in this sac. The pressure from this extra
fluid can make it hard for the heart to pump
as it should.
What is a pericardial effusion?
A pericardial effusion is an abnormal
amount of fluid between the heart and the
heart sac. This abnormal fluid may be
caused by, a viral infection, cancer, renal
disease, heart failure, hypothyroidism, and
after cardiac surgery. A pericardial window
is used to make a diagnosis and to make the
heart work better.
What is a pericardial window?
A pericardial window can be made with a
small cut below the end of the breastbone
(sternum) or with a small cut between the
ribs on the left side of the chest. A cut is
made in the heart sac to drain fluid that has
built up around the heart. A tube may be
placed to drain extra fluid for a short time
after surgery. This helps the heart pump
What are the reasons for a pericardial
Fluid build-up around the heart.
Allows us to see areas that may need
to be tested or biopsied. Biopsies, or
tissue samples, may be needed when
some lung tumors occur. Lung
tumors may be benign (non-
threatening) or malignant
What should I expect?
An intravenous line (IV) will be placed in
your arm to give you medicines during the
procedure and after. This surgery is
performed under general anesthesia.
Pain will be controlled with medicine by
mouth or IV medicines.
You will be asked to walk around the unit
several times a day.
After you go home:
ξ No lifting 10 pounds for 2 weeks
(incision is made below the rib cage)
ξ No driving for 2 weeks and while
taking narcotics to control pain.
ξ Incision: wash with soap and water
daily. Pat dry. Do not apply lotions,
powders or ointments.
When to Call the Doctor
• Signs of infection, such as:
o Increased redness, warmth, or
swelling at the incision sites
o Increased drainage
o Increased pain not relieved
by pain medicine
• Sudden onset of sharp chest pain
• Onset of shortness of breath or
worsening of shortness of breath
• Feeling a rapid heart beat
• Fainting or near fainting
• A large amount of bleeding from an
incision or elsewhere in your body
• Weight gain of more than 2 pounds
in 1 day or 5 pounds in 7 days
Cardiothoracic Surgery Clinic:
If you live out of the area, please call:
Weekends, holidays, and after 4:30 pm during the week, the clinic phone is answered by the
hospital paging operator. Ask for the cardiac surgery resident on call. Leave your name and
phone number with the area code. The doctor will call you back.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 8/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7033