Pericardial Effusion: Risks of Delayed and Misdiagnosis when Fluid Collects around the Heart
Pericardial Effusion occurs when there is collection of excess fluid around the heart. A delay or failure to diagnose this dangerous heart condition can be deadly.
We often say our hearts are full when we express joy or love. The heart is a symbol of that throbbing organ that holds all the love, sorrow, joy, and happiness life offers. It holds all that is dear in life, including life itself. However, it can also cause illness, suffering, and death. A sick heart can limit an individual’s activities and lessen their quality of life. While heart disease is high on the list of fatal conditions, one type of heart condition derives from abnormal fullness around the heart. Pericardial effusion is excess fluid within the heart’s protective sac. When the amount of fluid interferes with normal heart functioning, the heart may cause a body to experience a range of symptoms from dizziness to shock and organ failure. It can be deadly.
Given the life-threatening complications that may result from pericardial effusion when the amount of fluid surrounding the heart is simply too much, doctors and medical professionals must recognize the signs and quickly make a diagnosis. Even a slight delay diagnosing and treating pericardial effusion can progress into cardiac tamponade. This emergency scenario can further spiral into life-endangering physical degeneration. It may even cost a person their life.
Pericardial Effusion – Fluid Buildup around the Heart
The heart is enclosed by a protective double-layered membrane that secures the heart in place and keeps it lubricated. Each time the heart beats, the inner and outer layers of the pericardium slide along each other amid the fluid that separates them and prevents friction. Too much fluid between the layers can cause the heart to be squeezed in the pericardium, unable to become fully engorged with blood. When that happens, oxygenated blood flow is decreased in a condition called cardiac tamponade, and the body suffers.
What Causes Pericardial Effusion
Fluid often amasses around the heart after medical procedures or conditions. Some of the leading causes of pericardial effusion include:
Just as the causes of pericardial effusion vary, symptoms may also vary. For example, a person may feel indigestion if the cause is from cancer, a fever from infection, or chest pain from an allergic reaction to medicine when pericardial effusion itself is mild. When it is more severe, the prominent symptoms are from fluid build-up and lack of oxygen, which causes chest or arm pain and labored breathing. A person may experience nausea, swollen limbs, and stomach pain, as well as increased heart rate. A sufferer could pass out or go into shock, causing insufficient blood flow to the organs in the body. This can lead to damaged kidneys, liver, and all vital organs.
Shock is serious. It requires emergency care. The key to survival is finding the cause immediately. To assess and accurately pinpoint the root of the problem, doctors run tests to see the shape and condition of the heart, the regularity of the heartbeat, and the extent of the fluid surrounding the heart. They may run an electrocardiogram to check for heart rhythm and an echocardiogram to find fluid. Blood and heart fluid tests may reveal what is causing the excess fluid, possibly cancer, immune system disorders, or metabolic disease.
How Doctors get Rid of Fluid around the Heart
As is the case with most other health conditions, the cause determines the cure. If an infection creates the fluid build-up that marks pericardial effusion, antibiotics may be the required treatment. Otherwise, a doctor may order steroids to reduce swelling and pain relief medication for discomfort. Determining the extent of pericardial effusion is equally critical. If a patient has a mild case of pericardial effusion, a doctor may want to monitor the condition, while more severe cases warrant surgically draining the fluid. Treatment options depend on whether the condition is chronic or an acute flare-up, the former being more likely to end in surgery.
Delayed Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis of Pericardial Effusion
Although slight fluid build-up may go unnoticed in most affected individuals, pericardial effusion may slowly worsen and ultimately cause debilitating symptoms. A doctor may not diagnose the condition right away since the symptoms may appear similarly to other conditions. For example, if you see your doctor for a stomach ache, fatigue, and nausea, they may inquire about your general health, your medical history, the length of time you have had the stomach pain, and the character of the pain. You may have your blood pressure checked and your heart rate measured. Through a process of elimination of many possibilities, your doctor may narrow the field to a few likely conditions, order blood tests and refer you to a gastroenterologist to examine your digestive system. The generalist is not likely to leap to heart problems.
Unfortunately, the longer a condition like cardiac tamponade, a complication of pericardial effusion, remains untreated, the more dangerous it becomes. More fluid builds up, causing a patient’s blood pressure to drop quickly, especially if the accumulation is rapid. If it is not diagnosed and treated fast enough, the patient can suffer permanent organ damage or die from the impeded blood flow or shock. Cardiac tamponade may also manifest symptoms of other conditions that cause low blood pressure, anxiety, weakness, and rapid heart rate, such as hypothyroidism or dehydration. When these symptoms appear after surgery for another condition, the fluid build-up around the heart may have resulted from an injury to the heart while the doctor was operating nearby. Again, pericardial effusion or cardiac tamponade may not be apparent without the appropriate tests to identify those conditions.
When time makes the difference between early treatment with full recovery and delayed treatment with lasting damage, a doctor cannot afford to make errors by simply failing to order the right tests or reach the appropriate diagnosis. Medical doctors owe their patients the best practices, and their mistakes can lead to catastrophic consequences. A doctor who misdiagnoses pericardial effusion causes a delay in important treatment with potentially dire results. In fact, a delayed diagnosis or delay in treating fluid accumulation around the heart is among the most deadly mistakes you can make as an emergency room physician, cardiologist, or other doctor who frequently sees patients with heart related symptoms like heart attacks or atrial fibrillation.
Likewise, a general doctor lacking the necessary background in diagnosing heart problems often refers the patient to one, or even possibly several, specialists to ensure that the source or sources of symptoms is discovered in time. It is the quick jumping to conclusions and other manifestations of lack of proper care that can be so devastating to the health of those with pericardial effusion. Remember, fluid collecting around the heart when left undiagnosed or untreated can prove fatal.
Contact Pericardial Effusion Malpractice Attorneys serving all of New Jersey
Did your doctor delay in diagnosing and treating pericardial effusion? Or did a loved one suffer untimely death as a result of misdiagnosed or untreated fluid buildup around the heart? No doubt, errors with pericardial effusion can cause unnecessary pain, suffering, and injury to your body and mind. If and when this happens to you and your family, you can pursue a medical malpractice claim against your doctor or other medical professionals and facilities responsible for your injuries and financial losses.
It is not a simple process to file a lawsuit for medical negligence, as the laws and procedures are complicated, and there are important deadlines to meet. For this reason, a medical malpractice lawyer can serve as your advocate and the best form of counsel and support amidst an incredibly difficult period of your life. If you or a loved one was injured or died from pericardial effusion misdiagnosis or malpractice in New Jersey, contact our office now to arrange a cost-free attorney consultation and thorough case review.
Fronzuto Law Group represents clients with heart-related medical malpractice claims across New Jersey, including in Bergen County, Middlesex County, Passaic County, Monmouth County, Ocean County, and Essex County. Call 973-435-4551 to speak to a lawyer free of charge.