Air embolisms are considered preventable throughout the healthcare industry, yet hospital negligence, improper procedures and improper training lead to strokes and the preventable deaths of many patients each year. Air embolism occurs from intravenous (IV) air introduction into the bloodstream, and while air bubbles typically dissolve in the blood or the lungs, a significant air embolism developed from a central line IV may result in severe brain damage, heart attack, stroke or respiratory failure.
Joe Lyon is a highly-rated medical malpractice attorney and nursing negligence lawyer.
Mr. Lyon has represented plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of hospital negligence, wrongful death and personal injury claims.
What are Air Embolisms?
Air embolisms are a potentially life-threatening medical event that is often preventable. The serious condition requires prompt diagnosis or may result in severe patient outcomes.
Air embolisms occur when small amounts of air enter the blood circulation accidentally after relatively common medical procedures—complications from lung biopsy, brain surgery, arterial catheterization (IV introduction) or cardiopulmonary bypasses.
Injuries caused by an air embolism can be quite serious. The air bubbles typically dissolve in the blood or when they enter the lungs, however, once a significant air embolism develops from a fixed IV, it may result in severe brain damage, heart attack, stroke or respiratory failure.
In recent years, the number of deaths and injuries linked to air in IV lines has increased, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Causes of Air Embolism Malpractice
Air Embolism may occur during surgery, or when an IV or catheter is placed into a blood vessel. From the initial injection, air in the blood can travel to the brain or the heart. They may result from improper tubing or improper priming. Improper tubing or catheter removal is another area of medical concern.
Healthcare staff, including physicians and nurses, are trained to prevent air embolism, though injuries happen on daily basis. Air can enter veins or arteries through IV lines in the following ways:
- Holes in catheter or tubing: tubing can be damaged when sharp objects are used around a central line.
- Improper priming: An air embolism can occur 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 may develop.
- Improper removal: Improper removal of an IV line can lead to an air embolism.
- Defective Catheters
- Ventilator Induced Pulmonary Embolism—an air embolism can occur if there is trauma to the lung. If your lung is compromised, you might be put on a breathing ventilator, and the ventilator could force air into a damaged vein or artery.
- Defective Heart Stent
- Direct injection of Air into Vein—air may be accidentally injected directly into a vein or artery during clinical procedures through the misuse of a syringe or tubing.
- Blood Transfusions
- Medication Complications
- Open-heart Surgeries
- Jugular Vein IV Lines—jugular IVs present high risk for air embolism because they provide direct access to the venous system above the heart.
Nurses can monitor for air bubbles with a pulmonary artery catheter or ultrasound during surgery. Proper procedures and positioning is also important, and it is known that patients placed in a sitting position during IV procedures are at a greater risk for air embolism.
Nursing negligence, medical malpractice, and hospital negligence can be the cause of an injury caused by IV air embolisms. Since these are easily preventable injuries, air embolism malpractice can lead to lawsuits from affected plaintiffs.
Nursing Negligence & Air Embolism Malpractice
Usually, for air embolisms to develop from a central IV line, three things must happen:
- A patient must have an opening into the venous system
- The opening in the venous system is usually above heart level
- A sufficient amount of air enters the venous system
Prevention has been stressed by safety agencies, and some ways to prevent an air embolism include:
- Proper removal of a central line: a valsalva maneuver helps prevent air from going into the venous system. Using this method, a patient takes a deep breath and holds the breath while the catheter is removed. This helps stabilize vascular system pressure and prevents air from entering when the line is removed.
- Air occlusive dressing: when a central line is removed, a proper dressing should be applied over the opening to prevent air from entering. This can include a gel antiseptic applied and a transparent dressing on top of it. Tape and gauze are not air occlusive and may present high risk for air embolism. Air occlusive dressing should remain in place until a scab forms.
Air Embolisms: Symptoms & Injuries
Symptoms can vary depending on where the embolism causes a blockage in blood flow. If a large air embolism affects the arteries feeding the brain, it can cause sudden loss of consciousness and convulsions. Other common symptoms may include:
- Low blood pressure
- Visual disturbances
- Cardiac arrest
- Renal Failure
How Does Air Enter Veins Through IV Lines?
Air Embolism is the most dangerous risk factor in IV use. Air embolisms can occur if a nurse or doctor fails to fill up an entire IV line with fluid before connecting the line to the needle or catheter.
Another possible cause a preventable air embolism is the failure of a nurse to examine the IV line for air when replacing an IV bag. If a significant amount of air reaches the heart, it may block blood flow to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism.
Defective Vascular Stent Lawsuits
Abbott Vascular initiated a Class I recall of catheters due to 19 reports of injury. There was one reported death linked to a difficulty removing the balloon sheath. Abbott recalled 449,661 units because physicians could experience difficulty in removing the device sheath.
Such difficulties can result in severe injury, including air embolism, thrombosis, myocardial infarction and death. The recalled products include:
- Abbott NC Trek RX Coronary Dilatation Catheter
- Abbott NC Traveler Coronary Dilatation Catheter
- Abbott NC Tenku RX PTCA Balloon Catheter
Air Embolism Lawsuits
If a doctor or nurse cause or fail to recognize the symptoms of an air embolism, they may be liable for injuries and damages that result, particularly if the patient suffers a heart attack, stroke, respiratory failure, or dies because of a blocked vein or artery.
To prove that a nurse or a physician is negligent, there must be evidence that they provided substandard care, caused, failed to diagnose, or failed to properly treat the condition.
The existence of an air embolism can sometimes be confirmed by a review of medical records, especially if a CT scan was performed. It is crucial to consult a medical malpractice attorney who can investigate and assist you if a nurse or doctor caused an injury that would not have occurred if not for their negligence.
Hospital Error Lawyer can be recovered, including medical costs, pain and suffering, lost wages, and emotional distress. The family of a deceased patient can file a wrongful death claim.
Nursing Negligence: Cardiac Arrest & Stroke
Preventable injuries caused by IV errors and air embolism can be severe and fatal. Air embolism cases which are a result of an IV or catheter in hospitalized patients have a mortality rate of up to 30 percent. Individuals who survive may suffer from permanent injuries.
Complications include brain damage, stroke, blindness, heart attack and death. Once a significant air embolism develops from an IV, it usually results in bodily harm of one kind or another.
When hospitals, nurses, doctors and staff cause injury or fail to recognize symptoms of an air embolism, they may be liable for injuries and damages. After a stroke, heart attack, or respiratory failure, plaintiffs can prove medical malpractice with evidence of substandard care.
Air embolism can often be confirmed by the medical records, especially if certain tests were or were not performed. Consult with a medical malpractice attorney who can investigate and assist you in a nursing negligence claim.