Abnormal respiratory variation in diastolic filling has been reported in patients with cardiac tamponade. To determine the characteristic diastolic filling abnormalities in this disorder, we recorded left ventricular isovolumic relaxation time and transvalvular and hepatic venous flow velocities by pulsed-wave Doppler echocardiography in 28 patients with pericardial effusion (16 with and 12 without cardiac tamponade) and 20 normal control subjects. The phase of respiration was recorded simultaneously with all profiles. In 13 of the 16 patients with cardiac tamponade, Doppler examination was repeated after pericardiocentesis. In patients with cardiac tamponade, respiratory variations in transvalvular flow velocities and isovolumic relaxation time were substantially increased in comparison with values in normal subjects, patients without tamponade, and those who had undergone pericardiocentesis. An exaggerated expiratory decrease in diastolic forward flow and increase in reverse flow in the hepatic vein also were characteristic of patients with cardiac tamponade. Thus, Doppler echocardiography is an additional noninvasive means of detecting hemodynamic compromise in patients with pericardial effusion.
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