ESSENTIALS OF DIAGNOSIS
Clinical evidence of right heart failure.
No fall or an elevation of the JVP with inspiration (Kussmaul sign).
Echocardiographic evidence for septal bounce and reduced mitral inflow velocities with inspiration.
At times may be difficult to differentiate from restrictive cardiomyopathy.
Cardiac catheterization may be necessary when clinical and echocardiographic features are equivocal.
Pericardial inflammation can lead to a thickened, fibrotic, adherent pericardium that restricts diastolic filling and produces chronically elevated venous pressures. In the past, tuberculosis was the most common cause of constrictive pericarditis, but while it remains so in underdeveloped countries, it is rare now in the rest of the world. Constrictive pericarditis rarely occurs following recurrent pericarditis. The risk of constrictive pericarditis due to viral or idiopathic pericarditis is less than 1%. Its occurrence increases following immune-mediated or neoplastic pericarditis (2–5%) and is highest after purulent bacterial pericarditis (20–30%). Other causes include post cardiac surgery, radiation therapy, and connective tissue disorders. A small number of cases are drug-induced or secondary to trauma, asbestosis, sarcoidosis, or uremia. At times, both pericardial tamponade and constrictive pericarditis may coexist, a condition referred to as effusive-constrictive pericarditis. The only definitive way to diagnose this condition is to reveal the underlying constrictive physiology once the pericardial fluid is drained. The differentiation of constrictive pericarditis from a restrictive cardiomyopathy may require cardiac catheterization and the utilization of all available noninvasive imaging methods.
The principal symptoms are slowly progressive dyspnea, fatigue, and weakness. Chronic edema, hepatic congestion, and ascites are usually present. Ascites often seems out of proportion to the degree of peripheral edema. The examination reveals these signs and a characteristically elevated jugular venous pressure with a rapid y descent. This can be detected at bedside by careful observation of the jugular pulse and noting an apparent increased pulse wave at the end of ventricular systole (due to the relative accentuation of the v wave by the rapid y descent). Kussmaul sign—a failure of the JVP to fall with inspiration—is also a frequent finding. The apex may actually retract with systole and a pericardial “knock” may be heard in early diastole. Pulsus paradoxus is unusual. Atrial fibrillation is common.
At times, constrictive pericarditis is extremely difficult to differentiate from restrictive cardiomyopathy and the two may coexist. When unclear, the use of both noninvasive testing and cardiac catheterization is required to sort out the difference.
The chest radiograph may show normal heart size or cardiomegaly. Pericardial calcification is best seen on the lateral view and is uncommon. It rarely involves the LV apex, and finding of calcification at the LV apex is more consistent with LV aneurysm.