Coronary air embolism: incidence, severity, and suggested approaches to treatment


Cardiovascular Disease Section, Sinai Samaritan Medical Center


Because no well-controlled study of inadvertent coronary air embolism has been done to truly quantify the incidence of this cardiac catheterization complication, we wanted to determine its incidence and severity in an active teaching medical center and assess approaches to treatment. We retrospectively reviewed 3,715 coronary angiogram and PTCA reports performed over 32 months. Further, we classified severity based on angiographic findings and symptoms as minimal, mild, moderate, and massive. Two independent angiographers reviewed 764 consecutive cines performed in the first 2 months of training of each new fellow and 740 cines performed in the last 2 months of training. We found that during the first 2 months of training the overall incidence for significant intracoronary air embolism was 0.19% (7 documented cases) compared with 0.2% (3 cases) for non-reported, minimal asymptomatic air embolism. The estimated incidence for total air emboli events was 0.27% (10/3,715). We did not find coronary air emboli in the 740 cines performed at the end of fellowship training. Additionally, the incidence of coronary air emboli during PTCA training was much higher compared with coronary angiography training (0.84 vs. 0.24%). Although there is no best technique to restore blood flow after blockage by air emboli, we suggest as options aspirating the air or forcefully injecting saline, with auxiliary supportive measures like 100% oxygen, IABP, CPR, and DC cardioversion.

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