Journal of the Practice of Cardiovascular Sciences

: 2019  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 111--115

Constrictive pericarditis

Faraz Ahmed Farooqui 
 Department of Cardiology, Cardiothoracic and Neurosciences Centre, All Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Faraz Ahmed Farooqui
Department of Cardiology, Cardiothoracic and Neurosciences Centre, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi


A patient presented with Ascites for 3 months. Clinical examination showed ascites , presence of atrial fibrillation and a raised JVP. Further evaluation helped make a diagnosis of constrictive pericarditis. The questions that arise at each step of evaluation of such a patient starting from the history to examination and investigation is discussed in this bedside case discussion.

How to cite this article:
Farooqui FA. Constrictive pericarditis.J Pract Cardiovasc Sci 2019;5:111-115

How to cite this URL:
Farooqui FA. Constrictive pericarditis. J Pract Cardiovasc Sci [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 Jan 26 ];5:111-115
Available from:

Full Text

 Clinical Presentation

A 20-year-old male patient, resident of Bihar, presented with the following:

Abdominal distension and facial puffiness for 3 monthsBilateral lower limb swelling for 1 monthExertional dyspnea for 1 month.

The patient was apparently asymptomatic 3 months ago when he began to develop abdominal distension, which was insidious in onset and gradually progressive. There was associated facial puffiness. Two months later, he developed swelling of bilateral lower limbs. He also gives a history of the New York Heart Association (NYHA) Class II exertional dyspnea which was insidious in onset. However, dyspnea has not shown any progressive worsening. There was no associated orthopnea or paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND). The patient gives a history of easy fatigability. The patient would have intermittent relief in his symptoms with diuretics. However, there would be a recurrence of symptoms on stopping medications. There is a history of early satiety; however, appetite has remained normal. There was no history of palpitations, syncope, or cyanosis. There was no history of jaundice, hematemesis, or melena. The patient does not give any history of previous blood transfusions or high-risk behavior.

Past history was significant for intake of antitubercular therapy (ATT) 1 year ago for pleural effusion. He had taken a complete course of ATT. There was no history of trauma to the chest, prior chest surgeries, or radiation therapy.

Examiners: Please summarize the case history.

Examinee: A 20-year-old male patient has presented with a 3-month history of progressive abdominal distension followed by pedal edema and NYHA II dyspnea without associated orthopnea/PND. There is a history of past extrapulmonary tuberculosis with a history of ATT intake.

Examiners: What are your differential diagnoses based on your history?

Examinee: I would like to consider the following differentials based on the history.

Constrictive pericarditis – In the context of systemic venous congestion, a history of abdominal distension preceding pedal edema (ascites precox) and a past history of extrapulmonary tuberculosis make constrictive pericarditis the most likely diagnosisRestrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM) – Prominent systemic venous congestion associated with dyspnea may be a presenting feature of RCM. RCM is more likely in a patient with a predisposing disease such as diabetes mellitus or amyloidosis. Uncommon causes of RCM include endomyocardial fibrosis, iron-overload cardiomyopathy, and storage disorders such as Fabry disease, radiation heart disease, and idiopathic RCM[1],[2]Severe tricuspid regurgitation (TR) – Organic TR is an important differential diagnosis that closely mimics pericardial constriction in its clinical presentation. Organic TR may be congenital or acquired. Ebstein's anomaly is an important cause of organic TR. Other causes of organic TR include tricuspid valve (TV) prolapse, carcinoid syndrome, trauma, dilated cardiomyopathy, infective endocarditis (IE), or following surgical excision of the TV in patients with IE unresponsive to the medical management.

Examiners: What is the normal thickness of the pericardium?

Examinee: The normal thickness of the pericardium is ≤2 mm. A thickened pericardium on computed tomography is defined a pericardial thickness >4 mm.[3],[4]

Examiners: What is the most common cause of constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: The most common cause of constrictive pericarditis in the developed world is postsurgical followed by idiopathic constrictive pericarditis.[5] Tuberculosis continues to be the most common cause of constrictive pericarditis in India.[6]

Examiners: What percentage of patients develop constrictive pericarditis after cardiac surgery?

Examinee: Overall, 0.2%–2.4% of patients develop constrictive pericarditis after cardiac surgery.[5]

Examiners: What is the average duration of presentation of postsurgical constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: After cardiac surgery, the interval to presentation with constrictive pericarditis is on average 2 years but can range from as little as 1 month to >15 years.[5],[7],[8]

Examiners: Describe the pathophysiology of constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: Constrictive pericarditis arises after a cycle of injury and inflammation, which might be initiated several days, months, or years before clinical presentation, although the precise event often remains elusive. Damage to pericardial mesothelial cells is associated with an acute reduction of tissue-type plasminogen activator and reduced fibrinolytic activity, with fibrinous inflammation and adhesion formation, which is a possible mechanism for pericardial fibrosis, although this mechanism is yet to be proven. Most patients (>80%) with constrictive pericarditis who undergo pericardiectomy have nonspecific fibrocalcific thickening of the pericardial tissue, with evidence of ongoing acute or chronic inflammation of the pericardium. In contrast to late presentations, reduced pericardial compliance early in the disease course (usually <3 months) is more often caused by inflammation than by fibrosis.[5],[9]

Examiners: What is your understanding of the hemodynamics of constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: The principal hemodynamic abnormality in constrictive pericarditis is loss of pericardial compliance, with a reliance on elevated ventricular pressures to maintain cardiac filling and output, which eventually leads to primary diastolic heart failure. The constricting pericardium insulates the heart from respiratory intrathoracic pressure changes, which make the atrioventricular pressure gradient decrease on the left during inspiration, and increase during expiration. In healthy individuals, intrathoracic pressure decreases by approximately 5–10 mmHg during inspiration, and this pressure change is fully transmitted to the intracardiac cavities. However, in patients with a noncompliant or thick pericardium, the intrathoracic pressure change is not entirely transmitted to the intracardiac cavities. The extrapericardial components of the vena cavae and pulmonary veins are still subjected to these intrathoracic pressure changes, leading to enhanced variation between left and right filling pressures. Consequently, the pressure difference between the pulmonary veins and the left ventricle during diastole decreases with inspiration and increases on expiration, with opposing changes between the vena cavae and right ventricle. In patients with constrictive pericarditis, increased pericardial constriction leads to a fairly fixed combined volume of the left and right ventricles, such that atrioventricular filling of the right ventricle increases with inspiration and decreases with expiration. Ventricular interdependence is a characteristic hemodynamic feature of constrictive pericarditis.[10]

Examiners: What is the mechanism of dyspnea in constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: Exertional dyspnea in constrictive pericarditis is the result of limited or no increase in cardiac output with physical exertion. Orthopnea and PND are exceedingly rare in cardiac catheterization procedure (CCP). This is because pulmonary venous pressure rarely rises high enough to cause interstitial edema of the lung.

Examiners: What is ascites precox and what is the underlying mechanism?

Examinee: Ascites in constrictive pericarditis is out of proportion to pedal edema. It usually occurs earlier than pedal edema. This is referred to as ascites precox. Suggested mechanisms include:

Partial constrictor effect on at least one of the hepatic veins, as it enters the right atriumRelatively high atrial pressures compared to other causesHypoalbuminemia resulting from protein-losing enteropathyCardiac cirrhosisIncreased capillary permeabilityImpedance to lymph flow.[6],[11]


On examination, the patient is thin built with a body mass index of 17. He is afebrile. The pulse rate is 96 beats/min. The pulse is irregularly irregular with apex pulse deficit of 20 bpm. No pulsus paradoxus is noted. The blood pressure is 104/70 mmHg in the right upper limb and 106/72 mmHg in the right lower limb. There is bilateral lower limb pedal edema. The jugular venous pressure (JVP) is raised (12 cm above the sternal angle at 45°) with absent “a” wave and prominent “y” descent. There is no pallor, icterus, or lymphadenopathy. The oxygen saturation by pulse oximetry is 100%. There are no peripheral signs of chronic liver disease.

 Cardiovascular Examination

The precordium is symmetrical with no deformity or bulge. The apex is visible in the fifth intercostal space about 1 cm medial to the midclavicular line. On palpation, the apex is tapping and is of a left ventricular (LV) type. There is no parasternal heave. On auscultation, the first and second sounds are normal. A pericardial knock is present. No murmur is heard.

 Other Systems Examination

The abdomen is soft. The liver is palpable 4 cm below the costal margin. The liver dullness is in the fifth right intercostal space, and the liver span is 14 cm. The liver is nontender and nonpulsatile. Shifting dullness is presented suggestive of ascites. The spleen is not palpable.

There is a dull percussion note with decreased breath sounds in the right infrascapular, infra-axillary, and mammary areas.

Examiners: Enumerate the positive findings in your examination.


Irregularly irregular pulse with a variable volumeB/L lower limb pitting pedal edemaElevated JVP with prominent y descentThe presence of a high-pitched pericardial knockShifting dullness on abdominal examinationDull percussion note with decreased breath sounds in the right infrascapular, infra-axillary, and mammary areas.

Examiners: What percentage of patients with constrictive pericarditis have atrial fibrillation?

Examinee: In a previous study, atrial fibrillation has found to be present in 22% of patients with constrictive pericarditis.[12] Presence of pericardial calcification and higher duration of disease have been shown to be associated with a higher chance of developing atrial fibrillation.[13]

Examiners: How common is pericardial knock-in constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: Approximately half of the patients with constrictive pericarditis demonstrate an audible pericardial knock.

Examiners: How frequent is pericardial calcification in constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: Nearly 25%–30% of patients with constrictive pericarditis demonstrate calcification on a chest radiogram. Patients with tuberculous constrictive pericarditis have a higher frequency (35%–50%) of radiologic calcification. Calcification in constrictive pericarditis is best observed in a lateral chest projection.[5]

Examiners: What is transient constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: Transient constrictive pericarditis is characterized by improvement and resolution of clinical features of constriction spontaneously or with anti-inflammatory therapy. Recurrence of constriction is not seen in patients who respond to anti-inflammatory therapy.[14]

Examiners: Enumerate the Mayo Clinic Echocardiographic Criteria for constrictive pericarditis.[15]

Examinee: Shown in [Figure 1].{Figure 1}

Examiners: Describe the cardiac catheterization findings in constrictive pericarditis.


Significantly elevated right atrial pressureProminent “y” descent in the right atrial waveform, commonly referred to as “Friedrich's sign” along with prominent “x” descent“M” or “W” pattern of the right atrial waveform due to the combination of elevated mean pressure, inconspicuous positive waves, and prominent descentsElevation and equalization of diastolic pressures (within 5 mmHg) in all cardiac chambers“Dip and plateau” or “square root sign” in the ventricular pressure waveforms which refer to the pattern of accentuated early dip in diastolic pressure followed by plateauing in mid-late diastoleElevation in the right ventricular systolic pressure (RVSP) (generally limited to <50 mmHg)A marked increase in the right ventricular end-diastolic pressure to levels more than one-third RVSPFailure to decline or increase in right atrial pressure with inspiration (Kussmaul's sign)Decrease in early diastolic gradient between pulmonary capillary wedge pressure and minimum LV diastolic pressure is during inspirationVentricular interdependence as demonstrated by systolic area index (SAI) >1.1 × (SAI is then calculated as the ratio of RV area [mmHg × s] to the LV area [mmHg × s] in inspiration versus expiration).[10],[16],[17]

Examiners: What is the role of contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in a patient with suspected constrictive pericarditis?

Examinee: MRI provides an accurate assessment of pericardial thickness in patients with constrictive pericarditis. In addition, delayed gadolinium enhancement of the pericardium (especially ≥3 mm) is suggestive of ongoing pericardial inflammation and anti-inflammatory therapy may reverse the constriction in such patients.[5],[18]

Examiners: Describe the outcomes after pericardiectomy surgery in patients with constrictive pericarditis.

Examinee: Pericardiectomy is associated with a 30-day mortality rate ranging from 5% to 10%. The prognosis is worse in patients with radiation-associated and postsurgical constrictive pericarditis.[19] One-third of patients may develop recurrent symptoms due to the progression of underlying myocardial disease or less often due to recurrent constrictive pericarditis.[5],[20]

Chest X-ray [Figure 2] shows calcification of the cardiac border. There is no pulmonary hypertension or cardiomegaly. Echo finds were suggestive of CCP with a dilated inferior vena cava and Doppler flow patterns suggest of CCP [Figure 3].{Figure 2}{Figure 3}

[Figure 4] shows the catheterization findings with a rapid Y descent on the atrial waves, diastolic equalization, and a dip and plateau wave.{Figure 4}

Declaration of patient consent

The authors certify that they have obtained all appropriate patient consent forms. In the form the patient(s) has/have given his/her/their consent for his/her/their images and other clinical information to be reported in the journal. The patients understand that their names and initials will not be published and due efforts will be made to conceal their identity, but anonymity cannot be guaranteed.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1Pereira NL, Grogan M, Dec GW. Spectrum of restrictive and infiltrative cardiomyopathies: Part 1 of a 2-part series. J Am Coll Cardiol 2018;71:1130-48.
2Pereira NL, Grogan M, Dec GW. Spectrum of restrictive and infiltrative cardiomyopathies: Part 2 of a 2-part series. J Am Coll Cardiol 2018;71:1149-66.
3Talreja DR, Edwards WD, Danielson GK, Schaff HV, Tajik AJ, Tazelaar HD, et al. Constrictive pericarditis in 26 patients with histologically normal pericardial thickness. Circulation 2003;108:1852-7.
4Khandaker MH, Espinosa RE, Nishimura RA, Sinak LJ, Hayes SN, Melduni RM, et al. Pericardial disease: Diagnosis and management. Mayo Clin Proc 2010;85:572-93.
5Syed FF, Schaff HV, Oh JK. Constrictive pericarditis – A curable diastolic heart failure. Nat Rev Cardiol 2014;11:530-44.
6Kothari SS, Roy A, Bahl VK. Chronic constrictive pericarditis: Pending issues. Indian Heart J 2003;55:305-9.
7Killian DM, Furiasse JG, Scanlon PJ, Loeb HS, Sullivan HJ. Constrictive pericarditis after cardiac surgery. Am Heart J 1989;118:563-8.
8Gaudino M, Anselmi A, Pavone N, Massetti M. Constrictive pericarditis after cardiac surgery. Ann Thorac Surg 2013;95:731-6.
9Welch TD. Constrictive pericarditis: Diagnosis, management and clinical outcomes. Heart 2018;104:725-31.
10Doshi S, Ramakrishnan S, Gupta SK. Invasive hemodynamics of constrictive pericarditis. Indian Heart J 2015;67:175-82.
11Deepti S, Gupta SK. A case of right sided heart failure. J Pract Cardiovasc Sci 2015;1:130-7.
12Ling LH, Oh JK, Schaff HV, Danielson GK, Mahoney DW, Seward JB, et al. Constrictive pericarditis in the modern era: Evolving clinical spectrum and impact on outcome after pericardiectomy. Circulation 1999;100:1380-6.
13Rezaian GR, Poor-Moghaddas M, Kojuri J, Rezaian S, Liaghat L, Zare N. Atrial fibrillation in patients with constrictive pericarditis: The significance of pericardial calcification. Ann Noninvasive Electrocardiol 2009;14:258-61.
14Haley JH, Tajik AJ, Danielson GK, Schaff HV, Mulvagh SL, Oh JK. Transient constrictive pericarditis: Causes and natural history. J Am Coll Cardiol 2004;43:271-5.
15Welch TD, Ling LH, Espinosa RE, Anavekar NS, Wiste HJ, Lahr BD, et al. Echocardiographic diagnosis of constrictive pericarditis: Mayo clinic criteria. Circ Cardiovasc Imaging 2014;7:526-34.
16Geske JB, Anavekar NS, Nishimura RA, Oh JK, Gersh BJ. Differentiation of constriction and restriction: Complex cardiovascular hemodynamics. J Am Coll Cardiol 2016;68:2329-47.
17Sorajja P. Invasive hemodynamics of constrictive pericarditis, restrictive cardiomyopathy, and cardiac tamponade. Cardiol Clin 2011;29:191-9.
18Wang ZJ, Reddy GP, Gotway MB, Yeh BM, Hetts SW, Higgins CB. CT and MR imaging of pericardial disease. Radiographics 2003;23:S167-80.
19Bertog SC, Thambidorai SK, Parakh K, Schoenhagen P, Ozduran V, Houghtaling PL, et al. Constrictive pericarditis: Etiology and cause-specific survival after pericardiectomy. J Am Coll Cardiol 2004;43:1445-52.
20Chowdhury UK, Subramaniam GK, Kumar AS, Airan B, Singh R, Talwar S, et al. Pericardiectomy for constrictive pericarditis: A clinical, echocardiographic, and hemodynamic evaluation of two surgical techniques. Ann Thorac Surg 2006;81:522-9.