Venous air embolism from central venous catheterization: A need for increased physician awareness

E. Wesley Ely, R. Duncan Hite, Albert M. Baker, Margaret M. Johnson, David L. Bowton, Edward F. Haponik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Objectives: To report a series of patients with clinically diagnosed venous air embolism (VAE) and major sequelae as a complication of the use of central venous catheters (CVCs), to survey health care professionals' practices regarding CVCs, and to implement an educational intervention for optimizing approaches to CVC insertion and removal. Setting: Tertiary care, university-based 806-bed medical center. Interventions: We surveyed 140 physicians and 53 critical care nurses to appraise their awareness of the proper management and complications of CVCs. We then designed, delivered, and measured the effects of a multidisciplinary educational intervention given to 106 incoming house officers. Measurements and Main Results: Although most physicians (127, 91%) chose the Trendelenburg position for CVC insertion, only 42 physicians (30%) reported concern for VAE. On CVC removal, only 36 physicians (26%) cited concern for VAE. Some physicians (13, 9%) reported elevating the head of the bed during CVC removal, possibly increasing the risk of VAE. Awareness of VAE or its prevention did not correlate with the level of physician training, experience, or specialty. After the educational intervention, concern for and awareness of proper methods of prevention of VAE improved (p < .001). At 6-month follow-up, reported use of the Trendelenburg position continued, but concern cited for VAE had returned to baseline. Conclusions: There is inadequate awareness of VAE as a complication of CVC use. Focused instruction can improve appreciation of this potentially fatal complication and knowledge of its prevention, but the effect declines rapidly. To achieve a more sustained improvement, a more intensive, hands-on, periodic educational program will likely be necessary, as well as reinforcement through enhanced supervision of CVC insertion and removal practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2113-2117
Number of pages5
JournalCritical care medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1999


  • Air
  • Catheterization
  • Central venous
  • Critical care
  • Education
  • Embolism
  • Medical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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