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Perfusion. 2011 Jul;26(4):341-6. doi: 10.1177/0267659111403644. Epub 2011 May 10.

Central venous catheters may be a potential source of massive air emboli during vascular procedures involving extracorporeal circulation: an experimental study.

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Department of Clinical and Biomedical Engineering, Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet, Norway.


Central venous catheters are mandatory during every major procedure involving extracorporeal circulation. Air emboli potentially could enter the circulation through this device when negative pressure is applied in the venous cannula. The following experimental study was initiated by a fatal massive air embolus during a vascular procedure involving cardiopulmonary bypass. An experimental setup was established, simulating a real scenario. The experiment was performed with a 40% glycerol/water mixture which exhibits properties and fluid dynamics close to blood. A heart-lung machine provided circulation of the fluid. The flow was adjusted according to the gravitational status. A triple-lumen central venous catheter with one line open to air was lowered into the liquid. The disconnected lumen of the central venous catheter was manipulated so it approached and was located in close proximity to the venous cannula. An air flow of up to 300 ml/min could be obtained from the central venous catheter with a flow in the cardiopulmonary bypass circuit of 2.3 L/min. A linear relationship was observed between flow in the circuit and air flow. Consecutive measurements proved consistent with acceptable results, proving that a disconnected central venous catheter might, under certain circumstances, be a source of massive air emboli during cardiopulmonary bypass.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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