The heart is protected in the chest wall by a lining (pericardium) over the entire muscle. While there is normally very little fluid between the heart muscle and pericardium, certain conditions such as cancer, infection, and kidney disease can cause fluid to build up, putting pressure on the heart and making it unable to beat normally. The solution is to drain the fluid, either surgically by cutting a hole in the pericardium, or through a least invasive (percutaneous) procedure to insert a drain.

While percutaneous procedures are now widely done, most hospitals perform them with the guidance of x-rays to help the surgeon position the drain. UNC is one of the very few hospitals where the procedure is done with ultrasound guidance, which provides several key advantages over x-rays.

First, ultrasound is safer because it provides a more accurate picture than x-ray, and because it doesn’t involve radiation exposure. In addition, guidance with ultrasound allows drainage wherever the accumulation is most severe, whereas x-ray guidance only allows fluid to be drained from one particular area.

Finally, the ultrasound procedure can be done at the patient’s bedside rather than taking place in a procedure room, a big relief for patients drained of energy from the pressure on their hearts, and from the disease they may be fighting.

Because fluid build-up around the heart can be the result of conditions other than those of the heart, treatment protocol at UNC calls for a multi-disciplinary team of specialists working together to ensure the best possible outcome for each patient.

Contact Us

Call the Heart & Vascular Center referral line at 866-862-4327 to find specialists, make an appointment or learn more about preventing heart disease.

Open Access is a new physician referral service, created by the UNC Center for Heart & Vascular Care, which coordinates all admissions and transfers through a single phone call and guarantees immediate acceptance for patients. Please contact us to learn more or call 866-862-4327.

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