Air embolism - An analysis of 2000 incident reports

J. A. Williamson, R. K. Webb, W. J. Russell, W. B. Runciman

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19 Citations (Scopus)


There were 19 cases of air embolism (1%) among the first 2000 incidents reported to the Australian Incident Monitoring Study. No embolism-induced fatalities were reported. Serious acute systemic effects occurred in 14 incidents; one circulatory arrest required electrical counter-shock. The surgical field was the entry route for the air in 63% of the incidents; 47% of the cases occurred during head and neck surgery. Capnography was the most successful first detector (26%) and it confirmed the diagnosis in another 26%. Invasive blood pressure monitoring the electrocardiograph and the pulse oximeter played a useful role in detecting and/or confirming air embolism. Doppler monitoring was not reported in this series. A successful first response for management included head-down posture manual ventilation 100% oxygen and control of the air entry site. Cerebral arterial gas embolism may induce vascular endothelial damage and possible delayed neurological sequelae; hyperbaric oxygen therapy should be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)638-641
Number of pages4
JournalAnaesthesia and Intensive Care
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Anaesthesia
  • Complications

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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