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Acute management of vascular air embolism

Shaikh N, Ummunisa F. Acute management of vascular air embolism. Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock. 2009;2(3):180-185.doi:10.4103/0974-2700.55330.

Abstract

Vascular air embolism (VAE) is known since early nineteenth century. It is the entrainment of air or gas from operative field or other communications into the venous or arterial vasculature. Exact incidence of VAE is difficult to estimate. High risk surgeries for VAE are sitting position and posterior fossa neurosurgeries, cesarean section, laparoscopic, orthopedic, surgeries invasive procedures, pulmonary overpressure syndrome, and decompression syndrome. Risk factors for VAE are operative site 5 cm above the heart, creation of pressure gradient which will facilitate entry of air into the circulation, orogenital sex during pregnancy, rapid ascent in scuba (self contained underwater breathing apparatus) divers and barotrauma or chest trauma. Large bolus of air can lead to right ventricular air lock and immediate fatality. In up to 35% patient, the foramen ovale is patent which can cause paradoxical arterial air embolism. VAE affects cardiovascular, pulmonary and central nervous system. High index of clinical suspicion is must to diagnose VAE. The transesophgeal echocardiography is the most sensitive device which will detect smallest amount of air in the circulation. Treatment of VAE is to prevent further entrainment of air, reduce the volume of air entrained and haemodynamic support. Mortality of VAE ranges from 48 to 80%. VAE can be prevented significantly by proper positioning during surgery, optimal hydration, avoiding use of nitrous oxide, meticulous care during insertion, removal of central venous catheter, proper guidance, and training of scuba divers.

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