Constrictive pericarditis

Constrictive pericarditis (or perhaps better termed pericardial constriction) is a type of pericarditis which leads to diastolic dysfunction and potentially symptoms of right heart failure

No single demographic is affected as there are numerous causes of constrictive pericarditis. 

Clinical presentation is dominated by restricted diastolic ventricular filling resulting in an increase in diastolic pressure in all four cardiac chambers. Patients typically present with symptoms of both left and right sided heart failure including:

Characterised by fibrous or calcific constrictive thickening of the pericardium, which prevents normal diastolic filling of the heart. It may follow any type of pericardial effusion and may develop within a variable time frame ranging from two or three months to a number of years.

In approximately 50% of cases there is visible pericardial calcification on chest radiographs. 

Aside from pericardial thickening, echocardiography may show small tubular-shaped ventricles, distortion of the ventricular septum (e.g. flattened or sigmoid-shaped) and atypical septal movement (i.e. septal bounce). 

CT is very sensitive in demonstrating calcification of the pericardium which is suggestive of the disease if found in the proper clinical setting. A thickened pericardium (more than 4 mm) on its own does not indicate constrictive pericarditis 8. Contrast-enhanced CT may also show signs of cardiac failure like septal flattening and retrograde flow of contrast into the dilated inferior vena cava and hepatic veins.

The pericardium is often thickened to more than 4 mm. MRI is better than CT at differentiating between pericardial fluid and thickened pericardium 8. Cine MRI may also demonstrate septal flattening and septal bounce.

Constrictive pericarditis is potentially curable by a pericardiectomy.

Clinically, it is difficult to differentiate between constrictive pericarditis and restrictive cardiomyopathy. It is important to distinguish between constrictive pericarditis and restrictive cardiomyopathy as the former benefit from pericardial stripping.

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Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Pericardial constriction

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