BACKGROUND: Pericardial effusion is a known complication of post-open cardiac surgery which can progress to life-threatening cardiac tamponade. Classical signs of tamponade such as hypotension and pulsus paradoxus are often absent. Diagnosing acute cardiac tamponade with transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) can be challenging in post-cardiac surgical patients due to distorted anatomy and limited scanning windows by the presence of surgical dressings or scar. Additionally, this patient population is more likely to have a loculated pericardial effusion, or an effusion that is isoechoic in appearance secondary to clotted blood. These findings can be challenging to visualize with traditional TTE. Missed diagnosis of cardiac tamponade due to loculated pericardial clot can result in delayed diagnosis and clinical management.
CASE PRESENTATION: We report a case series that illustrates the diagnostic challenge and value of resuscitative transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) in the emergency department (ED) for the diagnosis of cardiac tamponade due to posterior loculated pericardial clot in post-surgical coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) patients.
CONCLUSIONS: Cardiac tamponade due to loculated posterior pericardial clot post-CABG requires prompt diagnosis and appropriate management to avoid the potential for hemodynamic instability. Transesophageal echocardiography allows a rapid diagnosis, early appropriate referral and an opportunity to institute appropriate therapeutic measures.