Surgical pericardial drainage procedures have a limited diagnostic sensitivity

Lindsay Volk, Leonard Y. Lee, Anthony Lemaire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Purpose: Cardiothoracic surgeons are frequently called upon to perform surgical pericardial drainage procedures (pericardial window) for pericardial effusions. These procedures have therapeutic value, but the diagnostic value of such procedures is debated. We set out to determine the sensitivity of pericardial drainage to detect the disease when cytology, microbiology, and pathology are evaluated. Methods: A retrospective chart review of patients who underwent pericardial windows from 1 July 2011 to 1 January 2018 at a single academic institution was conducted. All patients who had undergone a recent trauma or cardiac procedure were excluded. Cytology, microbiology, and pathology were examined. The charts were then carefully reviewed to determine if a clinical diagnosis was reached. Sensitivity was then calculated for all diseases and for those that should have been able to be detected. Results: One hundred sixty-two patients who had undergone a pericardial drainage procedure were identified; 49 patients were excluded for recent cardiac procedure or trauma. Of the 113 patients who met our inclusion criteria, 56 patients (49.6%) were female with a mean age of 59.7 ± 15.1 years. A diagnosis based on the pathology, microbiology, or cytology was obtained for 27 patients. The most common pathologies detected were adenocarcinoma (11), bacteremia (9), and small cell lung cancer (3); 56 patients had underlying pathologies that would have been possible to detect with either pathology, microbiology, or cytology. The most common detectable diagnoses were adenocarcinoma (20), bacteremia (12), and lymphoma (7). The most common undetectable diagnoses were idiopathic (17), cardiorenal fluid overload (17), and viral (11). The sensitivity of a pericardial drainage procedure for detecting disease was 0.24 for all cases, and 0.48 when restricted to cases where a detectable disease was present. Conclusion: Cytology, microbiology, and pathology for pericardial drainage procedures were unable to detect a diagnosis for 76% of all cases and greater than 50% of cases with the theoretically detectable disease. Pericardial drainage procedures have a clear therapeutic value, but they have limited diagnostic utility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1573-1576
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Cardiac Surgery
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


  • drainage
  • pericardial effusion
  • tamponade


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