Cardiac tamponade as an initial presentation for systemic lupus erythematosus

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Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease which follows a relapsing and remitting course that can manifest in any organ system. While classic manifestations consist of arthralgia, myalgia, frank arthritis, a malar rash and renal failure to name a few, cardiac tamponade, however, is a far less common and far more dangerous presentation. We highlight the case of a 61 year-old male with complaints of acute onset shortness of breath and generalized body aches associated with a fever and chills in the ER. A bedside echocardiogram revealed a significant pericardial effusion concerning for pericardial tamponade. An emergent pericardiocentesis performed drained 800 mL of serosanguinous fluid. While denying a history of any rash, photosensitivity, oral ulcers, or seizures, his physical examination did reveal metacarpal phalangeal joint swelling along with noted pulsus paradoxus of 15–200 mm Hg. Subsequent lab work revealed ANA titer of 1:630 and anti-DS DNA antibody level of 256 IU/mL consistent with SLE. This case highlights cardiac tamponade as a rare but life-threatening presentation for SLE and raises the need to keep it in the differential when assessing patients presenting with pertinent exam findings.

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