Air Embolism From IV Lines

The advent of central IV lines and other central vascular access devices (CVAD) brought with it an increase in the risk of air embolisms. If air is allowed to enter venous or arterial systems, consequences can be very severe and result in brain damage, stroke or death. Nursing negligence, doctor negligence, and hospital negligence can be the cause of a serious injury caused by IV air embolisms.

Burnside Law Firm LLP offers legal advice concerning IV infiltration injury and IV therapy injury cases. Call 800-569-1937 or contact us by e-mail for an initial investigation of your case.

At Burnside Law Firm LLP, our attorneys are experienced in the investigation of complex medical injury and malpractice cases which can include injury caused by air embolism. Typically, for an air embolism to develop from a central IV line, three factors must be present:

  • You must have an opening of some type into the venous system.
  • The opening in the venous system is typically above the level of the heart.
  • A sufficient amount of air must enter the system.

Nursing Negligence and Air Embolism Injuries

Jugular vein IV lines present high risk for air embolism because they provide direct access to the venous system above the heart. Education and proper nursing technique is the key to the prevention of the formation of air embolisms in any type of IV therapy.

Ways in which air can enter the veins or arteries through IV lines:

  • A hole in the catheter or tubing: Sometimes tubing can become damaged when scissors or other sharp objects are used around a central line. This can allow air to access the line.
  • Improper priming: An air embolism can occur with a peripheral IV as well if the IV tubing is not properly primed or if the IV tubing is primed while it is connected to the patient. Any time air exists in IV tubing and is allowed to enter the vascular system, complications can certainly develop.
  • Improper removal of a central line: Improper removal of an IV line can also lead to an air embolism. When central lines are removed, they create an opening into the vein. Thus, the patient should be quiet and at rest so the intrathoracic pressure does not fluctuate and suck air into the venous system.

Ways to prevent an air embolism include:

  • Removal of a central line: One method for removal of a central line is called a valsalva maneuver which helps prevent air from going into the venous system. By this method, the patient takes a deep breath, bears down and holds the breath while the catheter is removed. This helps stabilize the pressure within the vascular system and prevents air from going in when the line is removed.
  • An air occlusive dressing: Once a central line is removed, a proper dressing must be applied over the opening to prevent air from entering. This includes a gel-based antiseptic applied over the entire catheter exit site and a transparent dressing on top of it. Tape, band aids and gauze are not air occlusive and, when used alone, present high risk for air embolism. Air occlusive dressing should remain in place until a scab forms over the opening. Diligent inspection before removal of the dressing is also essential to proper medical care.

Heart Failure From IV Errors and Air Embolism

Injuries caused by air embolism can be severe. An air embolism can travel to the brain and result in a stroke. Air can also travel to the heart and cause heart failure. Unfortunately, once a significant air embolism develops from an IV, it usually results in severe brain damage, heart attack, stroke or death.

Immediate Investigation after IV injury

The existence of an air embolism can sometimes be confirmed by a review of the medical records, especially if a CT scan was performed shortly after symptoms developed. Our attorneys are equipped to investigate injuries involving air embolisms by reviewing medical records, working with experts, and interviewing relevant witnesses in your case.

If you suspect medical negligence, do not hesitate to contact our Augusta, Georgia, lawyers. We offer experienced, strategic advocacy in cases involving IV injury. Call 800-569-1937 or contact us by e-mail for an initial consultation.