58. Case Report: Constrictive Pericarditis – University of Tennessee

CardioNerds (Amit Goyal & Daniel Ambinder) join join University of Tennessee cardiology fellows (Rachel Goodwin, Emmanuel Isang, and William Black) for some chocolate cake and hikes in the Smoky Mountains! They discuss a fascinating case of constrictive pericarditis. Dr. Tjuan Overly provides the E-CPR and a message for applicants. Episode notes were developed by Johns Hopkins internal medicine resident Evelyn Song with mentorship from University of Maryland cardiology fellow Karan Desai.  

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CardioNerds (Amit Goyal & Daniel Ambinder) join join University of Tennessee cardiology fellows (Rachel Goodwin, Emmanuel Isang, and William Black) for some chocolate cake and hikes in the Smoky Mountains! They discuss a fascinating case of constrictive pericarditis. Dr. Tjuan Overly provides the E-CPR and a message for applicants. Episode notes were developed by Johns Hopkins internal medicine resident Evelyn Song with mentorship from University of Maryland cardiology fellow Karan Desai.
Episode graphic by Dr. Carine Hamo

The CardioNerds Cardiology Case Reports series shines light on the hidden curriculum of medical storytelling. We learn together while discussing fascinating cases in this fun, engaging, and educational format. Each episode ends with an “Expert CardioNerd Perspectives & Review” (E-CPR) for a nuanced teaching from a content expert. We truly believe that hearing about a patient is the singular theme that unifies everyone at every level, from the student to the professor emeritus.

We are teaming up with the ACC FIT Section to use the #CNCR episodes to showcase CV education across the country in the era of virtual recruitment. As part of the recruitment series, each episode features fellows from a given program discussing and teaching about an interesting case as well as sharing what makes their hearts flutter about their fellowship training. The case discussion is followed by both an E-CPR segment and a message from the program director.

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Patient Summary

A man in his late 40s with a history of renal failure secondary to IgA nephropathy and now status post a kidney transplant 10-15 years ago was referred by hepatology for evaluation of recurrent ascites and LE edema. He appeared grossly volume overloaded on exam with JVP elevated past the mandible, RV heave, and 2+ pitting edema. TTE demonstrated LVEF of 55-60%, RVSP 40mmHg, abnormal septal motion with respiration, and respirophasic variation in mitral inflow across the mitral valve raising the suspicion for constrictive pericarditis. RHC pressures demonstrated a mean RA pressure of 20mmHg, RV 40/25mmHg, PA 38/30mmHg (mean 32 mmHg) and PCWP mean of 26 with V-waves at 28 mmHg. Simultaneous LV and RV pressure tracings showed ventricular discordance with respirophasic variation, consistent with constrictive physiology. Patient underwent pericardiectomy with markedly improved heart failure symptoms. Repeat TTE showed no evidence of constriction. 

Case Media

B. Pulsed-wave Doppler spectrum of tricuspid inflow velocities demonstrates a marked respiratory variation (In irregular rhythms, such as the atrial fibrillation seen here, respirophasic changes may still be seen but are confounded by the varying R-R interval)
C. Simultaneous LV and RV pressure tracings showing discordance with respirophasic variation

Apical 4-chamber view demonstrating abnormal septal motion due to interventricular dependence – dissociation of thoracic and cardiac chamber pressures leads to increased RV filling during inspiration
Short axis view of the LV demonstrating a D-shaped interventricular septum during inspiration.  Note the presence of a pericardial effusion as well.

Episode Schematics & Teaching

The CardioNerds 5! – 5 major takeaways from the #CNCR case

  1. The initial presentation clinically seemed to be right greater than left heart failure. What are the signs and common causes of right heart failure?   
  • The signs and symptoms of RHF are often similar to left-sided CHF, but may describe more severe dyspnea on exertion, significant abdominal distension, and early satiety due to ascites or gut edema. Symptoms of pulmonary edema from elevated left-sided filling pressures (orthopnea, paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea) may be absent.
  • On examination, there will be elevated JVP with likely prominent v-waves, possibly Kussmaul’s sign (inspiratory rise in JVP rather than fall) depending on the pathology, abdominal ascites, pulsatile hepatomegaly, and lower extremity edema. An RV heave may be discernible along with a loud P2 component and murmur of TR.
  • Broadly, RV failure may be caused by pressure overload (ex: pulmonary hypertension, pulmonic stenosis), volume overload (ex: intracardiac shunt, tricuspid regurgitation), or myocardial disease (ex: cardiomyopathies, ischemia/infarct). The most common cause of chronic right heart failure is LV failure (causing post-capillary pulmonary hypertension). Other causes of RV failure include pre-capillary pulmonary hypertension, congenital heart disease (e.g., ASD, residual RVOT obstruction in Tetralogy of Fallot patients), ARVC, RV ischemia, myocarditis, right sided valvular disease, constrictive pericarditis, and restrictive cardiomyopathy.
  1. The patient in this case was diagnosed with constrictive pericarditis (CP). What are the causes of CP?  
  • Remember that the etiology of CP can vary considerably depending on the patient’s demographics. In developed countries, the majority of cases are idiopathic or viral, post-operative, or post-radiation therapy. In developing countries, infectious etiologies are more common, with tuberculosis the most common cause. 
  • Amongst the causes, remember that acute bacterial and tuberculosis pericarditis have the highest chances of progressing into constriction. With post-radiation constrictive pericarditis, remember there can be significant delay (even up to 20 years) between radiation therapy and development of constriction and often accompanies concomitant myocardial fibrosis with restrictive physiology as well. 
  • Other etiologies include immunologic disorders (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sarcoidosis), malignancy (e.g., breast and lung cancers, lymphoma, mesothelioma), and myocardial infarction.  

3.  What are the TTE findings suggestive of constrictive pericarditis?  

  • To understand the basic TTE findings, we need a basic understanding of the pathophysiology. Constriction leads to a noncompliant pericardium that encases the heart. Heart failure occurs because there is impaired diastolic ventricular filling.   
  • The ventricles fill almost entirely in early diastole, because once they can no longer expand because of the non-distensible pericardium, diastolic filling abruptly stops. This pathophysiology reflects one of the key findings in CP: equalization of the end-diastolic pressures. 
  • At the same time, the thickened/fibrotic/calcified pericardium prevents the normal transmission of intrathoracic pressures to the cardiac chambers. However, structures “outside” the pericardium – such as the pulmonary vasculature – still “see” the normal changes in intrathoracic pressure. Normally, when we take a breath in: the intrathoracic pressure falls and this is transmitted equally to the pulmonary capillaries (e.g., the wedge pressure) and the cardiac chambers. The gradient for mitral valve inflow reflects the difference in wedge pressure and intra-cardiac chamber (LV) pressure. 
  • In CP, the drop in intrathoracic pressure with inspiration is transmitted to the pulmonary capillaries but not the cardiac chambers. Thus, there is now a decreased gradient for mitral valve inflow during inspiration. This is called intrathoracic-intracardiac pressure disassociation. 
  • At the same time, with inspiration right heart preload increases and to accommodate this volume the RV expands. However, RV expansion is limited by the encasing noncompliant pericardium, and thus to accommodate the volume the interventricular septum shifts to the left. This, further decreases the gradient for mitral valve inflow and the physiology is termed enhanced ventricular interdependence. The opposite occurs on expiration.   
  • Thus, on echocardiogram we may see abnormal respirophasic septal shift, reflecting enhanced ventricular interdependence. The septum moves to the left in early diastole with inspiration and then back to the right on expiration. This is one of the most sensitive echocardiographic findings for CP. 
  • Reflecting compromised diastolic filling, markedly elevated filling pressures, and equalization of end-diastolic pressures, there will be a high E-wave velocity with a decreased A-wave velocity (E/A > 1) across the mitral valve. Due to pericardial restraint, this early rapid diastolic filling (high velocity with a tall E wave) stops abruptly and so the E wave has a short deceleration time. The latter is analogous to the pericardial knock heard on physical exam and the ventricular early diastolic “square root” sign (dip and plateau) on the RHC.  
  • Reflecting intrathoracic-intracardiac pressure disassociation and enhanced ventricular interdependence, there will be increased respirophasic variation in mitral and tricuspid valve inflow. This typically is best demonstrated with the first few beats of inspiration and expiration. Specific cut-offs include a decrease in peak mitral E-wave velocity > 25% and increase in peak tricuspid E-wave velocity > 40% during inspiration (opposite during expiration). In other words, as you inspire there is increased filling of the RV with decreased filling of the LV.  
  • Expiratory hepatic vein diastolic flow reversal is one of the most specific findings of CP. Reflecting intrathoracic-intracardiac pressure disassociation and enhanced ventricular interdependence, during expiration RV filling is compromised (as the LV is filling with septal shift to the right) and thus there is “back-flow” from the right heart and we see more prominent flow reversal in the hepatic veins during expiration. In contrast, hepatic vein diastolic flow reversal occurs predominantly during inspiration with restrictive physiology.  
  • Normally, the lateral e’ (tissue doppler) velocity > medial e’ velocity. In CP, we see annulus reversus, where the peak e’ at the medial annulus > lateral annulus because in constriction the lateral free wall may be tethered to the fibrotic/calcified pericardium and restricted in movement. In addition, when considering constriction vs restriction, normal or elevated annular e’ velocities are more consistent with constriction (normal myocardial relaxation) whereas reduced annular e’ velocities are more indicative of restriction (impaired myocardial relaxation).  

4. What are the characteristics of CP on invasive hemodynamics?  

  • All the findings on invasive hemodynamics are reflecting reliance on early diastolic filling and equalization of diastolic pressures. 
  • The end-diastolic pressures in the ventricles are usually within 5 mmHg of each other. 
  • We may see the square root sign on ventricular pressure tracings. The upward deflection in early diastole reflects rapid early diastolic filling and the subsequent plateau represents the abrupt halt in filling once the non-compliant pericardium can no longer expand. This is analogous to a pericardial knock on physical exam and a tall E wave with a short deceleration time on echocardiogram.  
  • The right atrial pressure waveform may have a “W-shape” reflecting rapid x and y descents. Conversely restrictive physiology may have rapid y descents but typically not with the x descent.  
  • Finally, simultaneous RV and LV pressures tracings will show discordance in pressures with respiration – with inspiration RV pressure increases and LV pressure decreases. This is analogous to respirophasic septal shift and changes in mitral and tricuspid inflow velocities seen on echocardiogram. This should not be present in patients with restriction.  
  • Note, if patients are hypovolemic, typical features of CP may not be seen, and thus a fluid bolus may be required to unmask the findings of CP.  

5. What’s the general approach to management of CP?  

  • If active inflammation is present on labs or imaging, trial a course of anti-inflammatory medications such as colchicine and NSAIDs is recommended before surgery. Similarly, patients with effusive-constrictive pericarditis a pericardiocentesis and a trial of medical therapy initially is recommended. Refractory cases may warrant anti-inflammatory escalation including steroids, steroid-sparing agents, and biologics including anti-IL1 agents. Prolonged courses may be required with therapy tailored to symptoms, inflammatory markers (ESR, CRP), and cardiac MRI. Enjoy Ep #33 – CMR with Dr. Kwon! 
  • If patient has persistent NYHA III or IV symptoms refractory to medical therapy without severe co-morbid illnesses, pericardiectomy may be indicated. Patients with idiopathic or viral pericarditis tend to have better outcomes with pericardiectomy than those with radiation therapy. 


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