Systemic arterial air embolism in penetrating lung injury

Aaron S. Estrera, Lawrence J. Pass, Melvin R. Platt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Systemic arterial air embolism is frequently unrecognized as a cause of death among patients with isolated penetrating lung injury. Between 1975 and 1983 at Parkland Memorial Hospital, the complication of systemic arterial air embolism developed in 9 patients with penetrating lung injury (six gunshots and three stabbings). Eight patients were either in profound shock or experienced cardiac arrest and all were intubated and on positive-pressure ventilation, frequently on a manual resuscitator bag before or at the time of diagnosis. The diagnosis was made by direct visualization of air in the coronary vessels in all 9 patients, and in 3 air was also aspirated from the left ventricular apex and aortic root. In addition, 5 patients had clinically significant hemoptysis. At operation, only an isolated injury to the lung was found in 7 of the 9 patients. Arterial air embolism is a highly lethal complication; 6 of our patients died, a mortality rate of 66%. Thus, it clearly behooves us to be more alert to the possible occurrence of this complication among all victims of penetrating chest trauma. We must accept that systemic arterial air embolism is an established complication of penetrating lung injury and must recognize that it occurs much more frequently than has been previously reported. Prompt diagnosis coupled with aggressive efforts at cardiopulmonary resuscitation is crucial for successful management of patients with air embolism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-261
Number of pages5
JournalThe Annals of Thoracic Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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