Ultrasound Case 005


A 66 year old woman presents with gradually increasing shortness of breath. She had a syncopal event whilst standing in church and remains grey and sweaty.

Subcostal View
View 2: Apical 4 chamber view
Apical 4 chamber view
View 3: IVC view
IVC view
View 4: Parasternal views
Parasternal long axis view
View 5: Parasternal views
Parasternal short axis view
View 6: Left posterior chest wall view
Left posterior chest wall view

Describe and interpret these scans

Image 1: Subcostal View

A large pericardial effusion is seen with anechoic fluid surrounding the heart. This loop was taken during a single inspiration. Right atrial and ventricular collapse is evident in expiration, but on inspiration as the heart gets closer to the probe, negative intrathoracic pressures increase right sided venous return and the collapse is less pronounced.

Image 2: Apical 4 chamber view

Right atrial collapse is frequently seen with pericardial effusions. When it is present for more than a third of the cardiac cycle it is considered highly suggestive of clinical tamponade. Right ventricular diastolic collapse occurs in early diastole – when the right ventricular pressures are lowest, and right atrial collapse is most pronounced late in diastole as it empties into the right ventricle. This explains the “see-saw” or “rocking” appearance of the free wall of the right sided chambers one sees as the right ventricle and atrium collapse at slightly different times during diastole.

Image 3: IVC view

The IVC is distended with absent respiratory variation.

Image 4 and 5: The parasternal views also demonstrate circumferential pericardial effusion.

Image 6: Left posterior chest wall view

This patient had a pleural effusion in addition to her pericardial effusion. In the plerual effusion is some atelectatic lung. Then the pericuarium is seen and pericardial effusion surrounding the heart. As the view is from the patient’s back the left ventricle is closer than the right.


Cardiac tamponade with small pleural effusion due to malignancy.

The old adage “tamponade is a clinical diagnosis“, is not completely without merit – when there is haemodynamic compromise the urgency for intervention is far greater.

There are many echocardiograpic signs of pericardial pressure effects that are evident before overt haemodynamic compromise.

For the Emergency Physician with basic echo competence the aim is to be able to detect and measure a pericardial effusion, to integrate findings with the clinical situation, and to ensure appropriate management.

More advanced echocardiographic evaluation involves two-dimensional, M-mode and Doppler assessment of the heart. Assess:

  1. The quantity and character of the pericardial fluid,
  2. Collapse of the cardiac chambers
  3. Respiratory variation of the ventricular diameters (ventricular interdependence)
  4. Inferior vena caval size and respiratory variation,
  5. Flow patterns through the atrioventricular valves (respiratory variation).



An Emergency physician based in Perth, Western Australia. Professionally my passion lies in integrating advanced diagnostic and procedural ultrasound into clinical assessment and management of the undifferentiated patient. Sharing hard fought knowledge with innovative educational techniques to ensure knowledge translation and dissemination is my goal. Family, wild coastlines, native forests, and tinkering in the shed fills the rest of my contented time. | SonoCPDUltrasound library | Top 100 | @thesonocave |

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