Retrograde air embolization during routine radial artery catheter flushing in adult cardiac surgical patients: An ultrasound study

Glenn S. Murphy*, Joseph W. Szokol, Jesse H. Marymont, Michael J. Avram, Jeffery S. Vender

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Rapid flushing of radial artery catheters may result in retrograde embolization of air into the cerebral circulation. This study examined the incidence of central air embolization during and after flushing of an arterial pressure monitoring system. Methods: One hundred adult patients undergoing cardiac surgical procedures were enrolled in this study. Ten ml of saline and blood were withdrawn into a syringe in the arterial flushing-sampling pressure system and then readministered to the patient through a 20-gauge radial artery catheter over 3-12 s. The right carotid artery, left carotid artery, and aortic arch were visualized using ultrasound imaging techniques during three manual flushes of the system. The left and right common carotid arteries were examined for the presence of macrobubbles or microbubbles using a linear array ultrasound transducer. The aortic arch was imaged using transesophageal echocardiography to detect retrograde air emboli. The severity of air embolization was quantified using a modification of an established grading system. Results: A total of 298 ultrasound studies in 100 patients were recorded and analyzed after radial artery catheter flushing. Two aortic arch images were not obtained because of an inability to place the probe. Most clinicians (54%) returned flush solution to patients at near-maximal injection rates (2-3 ml per second). No air emboli (macrobubbles or microbubbles) were detected in the carotid arteries or aortic arch of any subject. Conclusion: Retrograde air embolization is a rare event after routine radial artery catheter flushing in adult patients with stable hemodynamic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)614-619
Number of pages6
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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