Constrictive Pericarditis

Constrictive pericarditis occurs when a scarred, thickened, and calcified pericardium impairs cardiac filling.   The pathophysiological hallmark of pericardial constriction is equalization of the end-diastolic pressures in all four cardiac chambers. This occurs because the filling is determined by the limited pericardial volume, not the compliance of the chambers themselves.

Initial ventricular filling occurs rapidly in early diastole as blood moves from the atria to the ventricles without much change in the total cardiac volume. However, once the pericardial constraining volume is reached, diastolic filling stops abruptly. The stiff pericardium also isolates the cardiac chambers from respiratory changes in intrathoracic pressures, resulting in Kussmaul's sign.

Clinical presentation:

Patients with pericardial constriction typically present with manifestations of elevated systemic venous pressures and low cardiac output. Typically, there will be marked jugular venous distension, hepatic congestion, ascites, and peripheral edema. The limited cardiac output typically presents as exercise intolerance. Patients with pericardial constriction are much more likely to have left-sided or bilateral pleural effusions.

Making the diagnosis: