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Fracasso T.,University of Munster | Karger B.,University of Munster | Schmidt P.F.,University of Munster | Reinbold W.D.,Institute of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine | Pfeiffer H.,University of Munster
Journal of Forensic Sciences

There are few reported cases of death attributed to retrograde cerebral air embolism from central venous catheter. The pathophysiological mechanism and the necessary conditions are not fully understood, also because of missing experimental data. We performed experimental simulation while working on a possible case of retrograde cerebral air embolism. A hermetic system consisting of two containers connected to each other and to an electric pump by means of rubber hoses was built. In this system, a fluid (water and blood) could continuously flow under conditions similar to those of the common jugular vein. The part of the system representing the jugular vein could be freely positioned at angles between 0 and 90°. A central venous catheter was inserted into this part. After disconnection, the behavior of the air bubbles entering the hose through the tip of the catheter was evaluated at different positions. At angles between 0 and 45°, the air bubbles followed the fluid flow. At angles >45°, the air bubbles showed the tendency to flow upstream; this phenomenon was more evident the more vertically the hose was located. We were able to demonstrate that a retrograde air embolism can be caused by a disconnected catheter and is even more likely if the neck is in a vertical position. © 2010 American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Source

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