Cardiac tamponade and severe pericardial effusion in systemic sclerosis: report of nine patients and review of the literature

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To describe the clinical characteristics, treatment and outcome of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) developing severe pericardial effusion or cardiac tamponade.


SSc patients with severe pericardial effusion or cardiac tamponade from three Spanish hospitals were collected. In addition, a computer-assisted (PubMed, MEDLINE) search of the literature to identify all cases of cardiac tamponade or severe pericardial effusion associated with SSc reported in English, French and Spanish from 1987 through September 2015 was performed.


We included 40 patients (nine cases from the Spanish hospitals and 31 cases from the literature review). Most patients (87%) were female with a mean age at pericardial involvement of 49.3 ± 15.2 years (range: 18–80 years), and 22 (55%) patients had the diffuse cutaneous subtype. Twenty-five (63%) patients presented with cardiac tamponade and the remaining 15 (37%) as severe or massive pericardial effusion. Pericardial involvement was previous or simultaneous to SSc diagnosis in 13 (32.5%) cases. In most cases (88.9%) pericardial fluid analysis disclosed an exudate. Half the patients received steroids and 35% needed surgical treatment. Five (12.5%) patients died due to cardiac tamponade, three of them during the acute phase and the remaining two, 2 and 9 months later, respectively.


Although cardiac tamponade or severe pericardial effusion is an infrequent complication in SSc patients, it can be the first manifestation of disease associated with the diffuse cutaneous subset. No specific treatment for this complication is known.

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