What is Cardiac Tamponade?
Cardiac tamponade (or “pericardial tamponade”) occurs when blood fills the ‘potential’ space between the heart and the pericardium, squeezing the heart and preventing the heart from filling with blood. The pericardium is a tough fibrous membrane covering the heart and is not able to expand.
This decreased filling of the heart causes cardiac output to fall, resulting in the development of shock. Pericardial tamponade may occur in more than 75 percent of cases of penetrating cardiac injury, for example following a stab wound to the chest. Left untreated, cardiac tamponade will result in a cardiac arrest.
The signs and symptoms of tamponade have been labeled as “Beck’s triad” consisting of shock, muffled heart tones, and distended neck veins. Although first aiders are not trained to listen for heart sounds, they will be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of shock.
On-scene interventions should be avoided if the diagnosis is suspected because any time wasted on-scene could result in the death of the patient. Definitive surgical care in the nearest appropriate facility for pericardial decompression (drainage of the blood around the heart) may be the only life-saving measure available.
Any patient with penetrating trauma to the chest should receive urgent medical attention. First aiders should not delay in calling for help, early advanced medical & surgical care is vital to improve survival for patients with penetrating injuries.