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Complications of Central Venous Catheterization

Roberto E Kusminsky, MD, MPH, FACS

It is estimated that millions of central venous catheters higher is reached, and fresh-frozen plasma in patients
(CVCs) are inserted yearly in US hospitals.1 The pro- with elevated prothrombin and partial thromboplas-
found impact of the complications associated with CVC tin times. Administration of antihemophilic globulin
use is so important that efforts to minimize and prevent before subclavian vein (SCV) catheterization has led
their occurrence should be a routine element of quality to reports with similar conclusions in patients with
improvement programs. This review aims at centralizing hemophilia.13 Even heparinization does not appear to
the evidence currently available and presenting it as a increase the risk of bleeding or hematoma during
ready reference that could assist in estimating the mag- internal jugular vein (IJV) insertion.14 Although co-
nitude of the problem and formulating prevention ini- agulopathies are not a clear contraindication,15 the
tiatives. Additionally, emphasis is placed on the grow- IJV or femoral vein (FV) appears to be the compress-
ing body of information that supports the use of ible access site chosen by many authors for patients
ultrasonography-assisted insertion (UAI) as a superior with coagulation disorders.16,17
technique to decrease adverse events from CVC inser- 5. Large catheter size, such as those used for dialysis,
tion. From a clinical and practical point of view, which appears to influence the risk of vascular complica-
better correlates with usage issues, CVC complications tions of insertion.18
are best classified as secondary to insertion, indwelling, 6. Failure to catheterize is influenced by factors such as
and extraction practices. experience,2,3,19 previous catheterizations, previous
catheterization attempts, and previous operation or
radiotherapy in the anatomic region of interest.4,6
RISK FACTORS 7. Unsuccessful insertion attempts are the strongest pre-
The incidence of mechanical complications is modified dictor of insertion complications.6 Overall rates of
by a variety of factors: unsuccessful insertion attempts for IJV access have
been reported at 12%20 and 12% to 20% for SCV
1. Inexperience, variably defined but with a consistent and IJV in adults19 and infants weighing ⬍ 10 kg.21
relationship between less experience and the rate of Among patients who fail attempts at catheterization,
complications.2,3 complications develop in 28%.6
2. Number of needle passes, with the incidence of com-
plications rising with two venopunctures2-5 to a six- Overall incidence
fold increase with three or more.6 Complications associated with CVC insertion fluctuate
3. Body mass index ⬎ 30 or ⬍ 20,4,7 previous catheter- according to their definition and the correlation with the
izations, and severe dehydration or hypovolemia are multiple factors that influence their occurrence, ranging
factors that increase risk. between 5% and 19%.19,22 Femoral catheterization has a
4. Coagulopathies do not appear to increase the risk of higher incidence of mechanical complications than SCV
percutaneous insertion8-11 if appropriate precautions or IJV access,22 and can be associated with severe injury
are taken,12 such as transfusing thrombocytopenic if an inadvertent femoral artery puncture is too high and
patients with platelets until a count of 50,000 or is followed by anticoagulation.23 IJV and SCV catheter-
ization carry similar risks of mechanical complications,1
Competing Interests Declared: None.
although IJV insertion has been reported to have a
Received October 24, 2006; Revised January 16, 2007; Accepted January 17, higher incidence of mechanical complications than SCV
2007.
From the Department of Surgery, West Virginia University, Robert C Byrd in elective24 and emergency situations.25 A prospective,
Health Sciences Center, Charleston Division and Charleston Area Medical comparative study suggests that during cardiac arrest the
Center, Charleston, WV.
Correspondence address: Roberto E Kusminsky, MD, MPH, FACS, West
catheterization success rate can be higher for SCV than
Virginia University, 3110 MacCorkle Ave, Charleston, WV 25304. for FV access.26

© 2007 by the American College of Surgeons ISSN 1072-7515/07/$32.00


Published by Elsevier Inc. 681 doi:10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2007.01.039
682 Kusminsky Complications of Central Venous Catheterization J Am Coll Surg

ally been linked to a lower incidence of pneumothorax


Abbreviations and Acronyms than IJV access.51
CVC ⫽ central venous catheter Delayed pneumothorax has been reported to occur in
FV ⫽ femoral vein
0.5%44,52 to 4% of the insertions,45 but the incidence is
IJV ⫽ internal jugular vein
SCV ⫽ subclavian vein quite a bit lower in some studies.53 Symptoms com-
UAI ⫽ ultrasonography-assisted insertion monly appear within 6 hours but not in all patients,53
which calls for the need to exercise caution and increased
awareness in those cases where the insertion was diffi-
Because the complication rate decreases with train- cult,54 despite the ostensible early lack of complications.
ing,27,28 designing a standardized method of CVC inser- A standardized treatment algorithm of CVC-induced
tion29 is a logical process to promote prevention and pneumothorax can lead to good results with safety, im-
decrease the incidence of adverse events.1,30,31 Standard- provements in patients’ comfort, and decreases in length
ization can also establish management guidelines for of stay in adults32,55-57 and children.58 Such an algorithm
some complications that commonly follow CVC inser- should include elements of awareness and treatment of
tion, such as pneumothorax.32 Standardization can es- reexpansion pulmonary edema,59,60 particularly if pa-
tablish a best-practice approach based on evidence, and tients are treated on outpatient basis.57 Re-expansion
it can provide an answer to the questions sometimes pulmonary edema is estimated to occur in 1% to 14% of
raised about the competence of house officers. patients with pneumothorax.59,61
The advantages of UAI of CVCs have been reported Clinician-performed bedside ultrasonography allows
as far back as 1978,33 and the body of literature support- the diagnosis of pneumothorax to be made immediately,
ing its adoption continues to expand. There is now with a high degree of sensitivity and with better accuracy
abundant evidence to establish UAI as the safest method than supine chest films and equal to that of CT scan.62-64
to prevent or decrease overall and specific complications This approach has not yet gained widespread accep-
of insertion. Reports of the advantages of ultrasonogra- tance, is operator-dependent, and patient selection and
phy over the anatomic landmark method support the equipment can influence the results.65
findings of risk reduction20,34 and improved cannulation Malpositioning of a CVC has been associated for
success20,34-36 for all access sites—FV37, SCV, IJV36—in years with problems of local toxicity, perforation, and
adults and children36,38 and in different settings.39 In venous thrombosis and its sequelae. In the past, a con-
addition, the gap between experienced and inexperi- siderable percentage of catheters were left within the
enced operators has been reported to disappear when right atrium,66 but today the consensus in the literature
UAI is used.40 Conversely, UAI can be of help to a skillful opposes this practice67 because of the increased risk of
operator who is otherwise unable to cannulate.41 There perforation. The debate about the validity of this recom-
are reports disputing these results,42 although some of mendation continues to surface68,69 and many believe
the discrepancies have been reported in studies in which that the purported advantages of a CVC tip in the
ultrasonography was not used in real-time mode.6 atrium are associated with minimal risks.69-71 These dis-
agreements produce difficulties with the interpretation
Insertion complications of the true incidence of malposition, particularly if the
Pneumothorax is one of the most common complica- analysis includes information derived from older series,
tions of CVC insertion, reportedly representing up to when the definition of malposition, catheter length, and
30% of all mechanical adverse events.43,44 Its incidence angle of incidence was not a common element of discus-
varies between 0%7,24 and 6.6%,45,46 with higher inci- sion, and when repositioning was not a major concern.72
dences when the number of needle passes increases,4 in Today, malposition includes the recognition that an an-
emergency situations,47-49 and when the catheters in- gle of incidence of the CVC tip against the wall of the
serted are large, such as those used for dialysis.45 A 1% to vessel ⬎ 40 degrees carries an increased risk of perfora-
1.5% incidence is more consistently reported.6,32,50 Most tion.73 To avoid the tip from abutting against the wall of
of the evidence points toward a higher incidence of the vein at an inappropriate angle, it is best to approach
pneumothorax when the SCV is cannulated, as com- left-sided insertions with a 20-cm catheter and the right-
pared with the IJV.5,24 SCV catheterization has occasion- sided ones with a 16-cm catheter74,75 in adult patients.
Vol. 204, No. 4, April 2007 Kusminsky Complications of Central Venous Catheterization 683

Just as catheter length bears a direct relationship to tip 0.3% of patients; the incidence is higher when cardiac
position,76 such might be the case as well with catheter congenital abnormalities are present.88 In children cath-
diameter and tip malposition in children ⬍ 10 kg.77 eterized through a FV, unusual but serious complica-
When a CVC is inserted without image-guided assis- tions secondary to misplacement might be preventable
tance, as it regularly happens, the initial estimate of in- by postprocedure films and contrast injections.89 Pediat-
sertion depth must be made in the clinical setting fol- ric peripherally-inserted central catheters inserted with-
lowing unreliable anatomic landmarks. One such out image guidance require repositioning of the tip in as
approximation is made by premeasuring to a central des- many as 85% of the patients.90
tination point located just above one-third of the dis- Vascular injuries during CVC insertion encompass a
tance between the manubrium and the xyphoid, where wide spectrum of complications, with arterial puncture
the caval-atrial junction can be expected to be. It is com- the most common. It occurs more frequently with IJV
mon practice, then, to assess the final position of the and FV22,91 access than with SCV,50 and even though this
catheter’s tip radiologically, accepting that the pericar- complication is usually self-limiting, it should not be
dial reflection is below the carina.74 A more precise mea- dismissed as inconsequential because it can lead to sub-
surement emerges from the study by Aslamy and col- stantial morbidity92 or death,93,94 even if the puncturing
leagues,78 which establishes convincingly that the right needle is of a relatively small gauge95 or the catheter is
tracheobronchial angle is the most reliable landmark to correctly placed in its intended venous location.96
assure that a catheter’s tip is at least 2.9 cm above the Puncture of the carotid artery during IJV catheteriza-
pericardial reflection, even if it appears to lie within the tions attempts averages 6% in prospective studies,97 al-
cardiac silhouette. Similarly, 20% of catheter tips con- though higher rates have been reported with the land-
firmed to be in the atrial-caval junction by transesopha- mark method20,91 and as high as 18% to 25% in
geal echocardiography are still visualized in the midpor- infants.21,91 Of greater clinical significance is the fact that
tion of the right atrium on supine chest films.79 From a up to 40% of carotid punctures are associated with a
practical point of view, it is prudent to judge the final hematoma; 10 of 25 in one study.20 This, in conjunction
position of the catheter in light of the fact that the tip with manual pressure, has been interpreted as the mech-
practically always migrates, peripherally, as demon- anism responsible for the appearance of cerebrovascular
strated by changes between supine and upright postpro- neurologic deficits97-99 and death.100 Puncture of the sub-
cedure imaging.71,80 clavian artery during SCV catheterization attempts oc-
In general, there appears to be less opportunity for curs in 0.5% to 4% of the patients.6,22,50 Hemothorax
malposition with jugular than with subclavian access.50 after CVC insertion is mostly an expression of an inad-
Subclavian entry is followed by misplacement of the vertent arterial injury, which has been reported to occur
CVC into the ipsilateral jugular vein in up to 15% of the approximately in 1% of central catheterizations,50 some-
catheterizations.81 This can be avoided in a major frac- times leading to uncommonly severe consequences, such
tion of patients by simply assuring that the J tip of the as quadriplegia.101
guidewire is pointing caudad during insertion.82 Addi- It stands to reason that the best way to care for arterial
tionally, turning the head toward the insertion side nar- perforations during CVC insertion is to avoid them, and
rows the os of the IJV,83 and manual compression of the the first preventive step to be taken is to recognize that
jugular can avoid misdirection as well while the guide- the needle entering the vessel is actually in a vein. More
wire is threaded.84 UAI has been reported to be effective often than not, the operator can rapidly determine that
in detecting anatomic variants85 and in steering the suc- the vessel is an artery because of pulsatile back flow, but
cessful placement of the tip to avoid catheter misplace- that is not always the case. A variety of methods, and
ment in adults86 and children.87 their pros and cons, have been described to facilitate
Postprocedure films are useful to check for complica- recognition of an inadvertent arterial puncture,102,103 but
tions and misplacement.81 Congenital anatomic varia- none is foolproof. UAI remains the best prevention prac-
tions can confound the radiologic interpretation of the tice currently available,1,20,35,40 although these advantages
tip’s location. Of these, the most common clinically sig- are not universally reproduced.104
nificant anomaly of the great systemic veins is the per- Large-bore arterial perforation or cannulation of the
sistence of a left superior vena cava, which is seen in carotid or subclavian occurs in approximately 0.1% to
684 Kusminsky Complications of Central Venous Catheterization J Am Coll Surg

1% of cases.18,91,105-108 Uncommon as it is, this compli- aortic perforation describe multiple insertion attempts
cation is associated with potentially devastating conse- and have been right-sided,133,135 although a left-sided en-
quences: approximately 30% of these patients can be try does cause this injury as well. The diagnosis of an
expected to become symptomatic—bleeding,109 neuro- aortic injury and the estimation of its extent requires
logic findings or other sequelae106,108—and if so, the careful assessment, as is the case with any arterial injury
mortality rate reaches 20% to 40%.18,105,107 Stroke or after attempted venous catheterization; it is not uncom-
neurologic deficits associated with large-bore arterial in- mon for a chest x-ray to be misleading,106,136 and often
jury can be estimated to occur in 27% of the patients106 the artery is entered after the vein is perforated.106,109,121
and is reported often,97,100,110,111 particularly in associa- Ultrasonography and CT scanning have been used with
tion with infusions through the cannulated artery.112,113 success, but the more central the injury the best way to
Most arterial large-bore perforations can be attributed study the damage is a contrast study, if there is time.
to the unsafe manipulation of the dilators,105,114-117 Both percutaneous closure137 and balloon tamponade138
which should only be used to widen the skin and SC have been described as a treatment approach to aortic
tissues but frequently are inserted unnecessarily far, injuries.
sometimes even causing ventricular perforation.118 Injuries to the pulmonary artery result more com-
Other possible mechanisms of injury include kinking of monly from the use of pulmonary artery catheters,139-141
the guidewire resulting in misdirection of the dilator and although occasionally the vessel is punctured directly
perhaps insertion of the wire outside the vessel.119,120 during CVC insertion attempts.142 The estimated inci-
Arterial puncture and perforation during CVC inser- dence of pulmonary artery catheter-associated injury—
tion appears to be mostly a right sided phenome- hemorrhage and infarct—is 0.1% to 0.2%, with a mor-
non,91,121,122 which coincides with the anatomic differ- tality rate of 42%.139,141
ences of the vascular system at either side of the midline. Pseudoaneurysms143, AV fistulas144 and vertebral ar-
On the right, the subclavian-jugular venous junction tery injuries145 are rare complications of inadvertent ar-
overlies the subclavian artery, making this vessel more terial perforation or cannulation. AV fistulas can develop
prone to injury than it is on the left. The right SCV shortly or years after catheterization attempts.144 They
enters the innominate at a sharper angle than its coun- have been estimated to occur in 0.2% of IJV146 and 0.6%
terpart on the left, which would make it then more vul- of SCV catheterization attempts.147 Vertebral artery in-
nerable to perforation if a firm dilator is inserted too juries are sometimes associated with acute neurologic
deeply.105,121 injury, but more frequently they have a delayed presen-
Whatever management choices are made to treat tation as a fistula after SCV or IJV attempts, or as a
these arterial complications, it is prudent to leave the pseudoaneurysm.148
offending catheter in place until the next step is The treatment of most pseudoaneurysms of central
taken.103,106,116,123 Individual patient circumstances arteries has evolved into progressively less invasive and
might dictate the selection of surgical procedure,106 effective approaches.148,149 Ultrasonography-guided per-
thrombin injection,124 percutaneous suture devices,125 cutaneous thrombin injection has been used in the ca-
stent graft placement,126 or balloon tamponade123 as the rotid artery,150 but this technique is viewed with unease
best way to handle these emergencies. because of its potential for embolization into the cerebral
Perforation of the aorta during CVC insertion ap- circulation.149 Similarly, the use of stents to treat
pears in the literature more often than would have been pseudoaneurysms and AV fistulas is a reasonable ap-
expected,127-130 suggesting some degree of underreport- proach if the grafts do not obstruct the takeoff of the
ing. It sometimes presents with a simultaneous perfora- vertebral or carotid arteries,148 although stenting the ca-
tion of the superior vena cava.130 If the perforation oc- rotids directly to treat these problems has been
curs within the pericardial reflection there will be an successful.151
associated cardiac tamponade, in which case the mortal- Dysrhythmias accompany CVC insertion fairly often
ity rate reaches 90%.131,132 Aortic injuries, as with arterial and more so when pulmonary artery catheters are used.
perforations in general, are also attributable to the im- Even palpation and pressure on the carotid artery during
proper use of the dilator, although they can also occur insertion of a pulmonary artery catheter has resulted in
with a needle133 or a large catheter.134 Most reports of ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest.152
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The incidence of cardiac ectopy during catheteriza- incidence of brachial plexus punctures is approximately
tion is clearly related to the guidewire insertion depth, 1.7% and can be decreased substantially by UAI.20
reaching 75% as the wire is advanced between 25 cm Horner syndrome has been reported to occur in 2%
and 32 cm from an IJV entry site, the usual finding of IJV cannulations,111 but this appears to be somewhat
being the occurrence of premature atrial contractions.153 high an incidence, inconsistent with the realities of cur-
Ventricular ectopy can be triggered in up to 25% of rent clinical practice. Other reports describe the syn-
patients, suggesting the possibility that a malignant ar- drome in 2 of 1,000 patients undergoing pulmonary
rhythmia could arise.154 Only a small percentage of all artery catheterization152 and CVC insertions,16 which
arrhythmias are symptomatic155 and almost invariably appears to be a more reliable estimate. This complication
these difficulties cease after the guidewire is withdrawn. is occasionally permanent152 and perhaps likelier to oc-
Occasionally, serious problems arise during guidewire cur with larger-sized catheters,166 and is sometimes cou-
insertion in patients at risk, such as a complete heart pled with other neurologic manifestations, such as vocal
block,156 and even sudden death.157 cord paralysis.167
Indwelling catheters have been reported to cause ar- Incidence of lymphatic injuries during CVC insertion
rhythmias in 0.9% of patients, with some necessitating is difficult to assess, because most of the available litera-
therapeutic intervention in addition to removal.158 ture is limited to isolated reports, although it is estimated
Rarely, inserting a guidewire in a patient with an im- that 25% of overall cases of chylothorax are a result of
planted cardioverter device can lead to the most unusual surgical injury.168 Chylothorax and chylopericardium
situation of inducing an arrhythmia while delivering a can occur as a complication of venous thrombosis in-
shock to the operator.159 duced by a CVC169-171 or by direct damage to the lym-
phatic ducts.168,172,173 Traditional thinking suggests that
The rarity of serious sequelae and the usually transient
lymphatic injuries are associated with left IJV or SCV
nature of the arrhythmias induced by CVC insertion
insertions and represent thoracic duct damage.168,174,175
commonly permeate institutional cultures with feelings
Interestingly, a right-sided approach can lead to lym-
that these consequences are negligible. In the past, the
phatic duct harm in adults176 and children.172 Right su-
medical literature reported seeking out ectopy during
praclavicular access has been associated with a 0.5%
guidewire insertion as a marker of correct positioning.160
incidence of lymphocutaneous fistula.177 The supracla-
Considering the possibility of inducing ventricular ec-
vicular approach appears to be associated with a higher
topy,154 efforts to avoid overinsertion of the guidewire than expected rate of lymphatic injury, in the range of
would be a prudent strategy. 1%.178,179 Notably, UAI does not appear to prevent this
In contrast with CVCs, pulmonary artery catheters complication.174,177,180
induce dysrhythmias in 72% of the patients,141 with ven- Over the past several years, innovative and well–
tricular ectopy in 65% to 68% of them.141,152 Three per- thought-out methods of treating these complications
cent of all pulmonary artery catheters have persistent have emerged. Proposed and successfully tried therapies
PVCs requiring therapy141 and ventricular tachycardia include the use of nitric oxide,181 thoracoscopic fibrin
develops in 1.5%, with one-fourth of these patients re- glue application,182 and percutaneous embolization with
quiring cardioversion.140 platinum microcoils.183-185
The neurologic complications of CVC insertion Guidewire loss during insertion of a CVC is a rare
more commonly reported—excluding cerebrovascular event, occurring approximately twice in several thou-
accidents—include brachial plexus injury and Horner sand catheterizations.186 Guidewires can loop and be-
syndrome. Brachial plexopathies can follow IJV161 or come entrapped,187 stick inside the inserted catheter,188
SCV162 catheterization, and are mostly transient, partic- knot and fracture,189 and embolize producing acute ar-
ularly if the local anesthetic is the cause of the symp- terial insufficiency190 or paradoxically through a patent
toms.161 Multiple punctures or hematoma163 can lead to foramen ovale.191 Straight-tipped guidewires can cause
progressively worsening symptoms resulting sometimes cardiac perforation.192 Occasionally, a lost wire presents
in permanent damage.99,164,165 Typically, IJV insertions in a most bizarre manner: protruding through the
are associated with injury to the upper trunk161 and SCV skin.193 Entrapment of a guidewire within a vena cava
access with the lower trunk163 of the brachial plexus. The filter is a serious complication of vascular access that can
686 Kusminsky Complications of Central Venous Catheterization J Am Coll Surg

lead to displacement or fracture of the intravascular de- rhexidine preparation, use of full sterile garb precau-
vice, but clinician awareness and careful technique could tions, and CVC removal as soon as possible. This
make this a largely preventable problem.194 educational module includes a checklist to ensure adher-
The cornerstone of safe guidewire insertion is to avoid ence to evidence-based guidelines.206,207 Other preven-
kinking105,188 and potentially lethal injury,117-120 simulta- tive measures found to be effective additions to the pre-
neously assuring that resistance during insertion or re- viously mentioned bundle include voiding routine
moval is met with cautious response.187 Under these cir- catheter exchanges and the use of antibiotic ointments
cumstances, the needle-guidewire ensemble must be on the entry site, plus the use of clorhexidine impreg-
removed and the procedure reinitiated. To do otherwise nated sponges to dress the insertion area.200 Some studies
substantially increases the risks of wire fracture and its suggest that adhering to these measures eliminates the
serious sequelae.190,191 difference in infection rates seen in all three insertion
Despite admonitions that guidewire loss is a totally sites.208 Gram-positive infections and those involving
preventable situation if the operator makes sure to hold implanted reservoirs practically always require removal
onto the wire during insertion and to inspect it after of the catheter.209
removal,189,195 these and other precautions are not The use of antimicrobial impregnated catheters is still
enough to avoid the problem entirely. An easily inserted debated by some authors,210 and the Center for Disease
guidewire, normally shaped after removal, can still be Control and Prevention guidelines recommends the use
associated with fracture and embolism196 and multiple of antimicrobial-impregnated CVCs in selected clinical
films might not demonstrate the complication,197 so the situations,200 but a strong body of evidence justifies their
diagnosis of a retained foreign body is commonly de- use.207 In a persuasively written viewpoint, Crnich and
layed.198 Attempts to design a safer guidewire have been Maki207 provide an excellent summary of the numerous
reported, with good results.199 sound studies demonstrating that a substantial number
of blood stream infections can be prevented—40%
Indwelling complications at least—with the use of short-term antimicrobial-
Infection is the main complication of indwelling cathe- impregnated CVCs.
ters, with an incidence of approximately 5.3 per 1,000 Thrombosis induced by CVCs is a frequent occur-
catheter days and an attributed mortality of 18% (0% to rence, ranging between 33%1 and 59% of indwelling
35%).200 Most infections arise from the skin insertion catheters, although clinical symptoms develop in just a
site or the catheter hub, depending on the indwelling small percentage of patients.211 The pathogenesis is mul-
time, and are then perpetuated by biofilm, a bacterial- tifactorial, but endothelial injury, turbulence of the ve-
derived community embedded in a matrix of extracellu- nous flow and catheter thrombogenicity211 play a role, as
lar polymeric substances that they produce.201 This de- does the composition of the infusate212 and the charac-
terminant factor could explain the favorable results seen teristics of the disease process. A fibrin sheath develops
with the injection of hydrochloric acid to treat CVC within 24 hours of catheter insertion, and although this
infections.202 sheath contributes to catheter occlusion, it does not pre-
FV catheters have a higher risk of infection than SCV dict subsequent deep vein thrombosis of the vessel,203
or IJV catheters,1 as do noncuffed catheters compared but all CVCs are subjected to malfunction as a result of
with cuffed ones.200 Because the risk of infection is this fibrin casing.213
heightened by thrombosis,203,204 efforts to render the The rate of CVC-induced thrombosis is lower for
catheters less thrombogenic have included heparin- SCV than for IJV and FV access.1 The rate of thrombosis
coating, but the risk of activating heparin induced is reported at 1.9% for SCV access22 and 22% to 29%
thrombocytopenia makes their use imprudent.205 after 4 to 14 days of indwelling time214 for a femoral
Catheter-related bloodstream infections can be pre- CVC.22,204 Location of the CVC tip within an inlet vein
vented: in an elegantly designed study, Berenholtz and increases the likelihood of catheter-associated thrombo-
colleagues206 instituted sequential measures in an ICU sis 16 times,215 but malfunction is lessened when the
population, bringing the incidence of infection down to catheter lies in a high-flow central vein.216 Superior vena
virtually zero. Currently, this “bundle” of standard ac- cava obstruction can be a substantial problem, estimated
tions includes educating caregivers in hand hygiene, clo- to occur in 1/1,000 indwelling devices.217
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Varying degrees of occlusion induced by CVCs are as a hydrothorax,228,229,234 which is bilateral in up to one-
associated with varying degrees of stenoses,218 although third of patients.235
as many as 30% of the patients without previous cath- A useful predictor of impending perforation is the
eterizations might have clinically significant venous an- radiographic confirmation of a curled-up catheter tip,
atomic abnormalities—greater than 50% stenoses and which occurs in approximately 4% of placements,236 and
angulations—that could increase the risks of catheteriza- sometimes requires a lateral chest film for visualiza-
tion.219 Twice as many patients—60%—will have de- tion.237 Myriad reports discuss the likelihood of perfora-
fects if they have been catheterized previously,219 partic- tion by indwelling catheters as a function of the entry
ularly through a subclavian approach.204 Longer catheter side, because most of the cases reported have been asso-
dwell times increase development of central vein abnor- ciated with left-sided CVC insertions,228 which results in
malities,220 as expected. Stenoses induced by large-bore a more horizontal position of the catheter shaft and
catheters are reported in the range of 40% to 50%, and abutting of its tip against the vein wall when the catheter
higher if the CVC has been infected.221 Narrowing de- is of insufficient length. The pathogenesis of this com-
velops mostly behind the clavicle, an area difficult to plication must be attributed to the steady pressure and
visualize with ultrasonography.222 friction exerted on the vessel wall by the catheter tip
In cancer patients, CVCs cause vessel thrombosis in eventually leading to erosion, the same way a decubitus
41% of the patients, with postphlebitic syndrome devel- ulcer forms. So, abutting the vein wall or curling of a
oping in 15% to 30% of them and pulmonary embolism catheter tip that does not normally have a curvature, is
developing in 11%.203 Morbidity and mortality of jugu- basically a signal that the CVC tip is compressing the
lar and subclavian thrombosis appears to be similar.223 vein and should be repositioned to lie parallel to the
vessel wall by whatever maneuvers are required. Unfor-
Although treatable, longterm relief for central venous
tunately, this cannot always be accomplished by staying
occlusive disease is rarely achieved.224 Despite this, the
above the pericardial reflection.
consensus in the medical literature indicates that routine
This information then leads to the simple question of
antithrombotic therapy for oncologic patients with
why is it that pigtailed venous catheters are not being
CVCs is not warranted,225 a conclusion that is likely
used more often? In an intelligently conceived study,
applicable to patients without cancer.
Gravenstein and Blackshear238 demonstrated that a pig-
Fibrin sheath stripping and urokinase infusion work
tail catheter is 100 times less likely to perforate than
equally well to salvage catheter patency,226 and appropri- straight-tipped catheters. There is also additional com-
ate differentiation between a fibrin sheath and thrombo- pelling evidence to support the use of pigtail catheters:
sis is necessary before the initiation of therapeutic ma- studies in a porcine model have shown that central access
neuvers.213 There is increasing interest in endoluminal with looped catheters can eliminate the vein wall injury
brushing as a method to regain patency of occluded process for substantial periods as compared with straight
catheters.227 catheters.239 This also suggests that a thrombus at the tip
Vascular erosion and perforation of an indwelling of the catheter—a common cause of dysfunction—
CVC can be associated with cardiac tamponade, de- might be less likely to develop if the tip does not lie in
pending on whether the perforation occurs below or direct contact with the vein wall. So far, clinical experi-
outside the pericardial reflection. Perforation without ence with catheters contoured in this manner is limited
tamponade occurs in 0.4% to 1% of catheterizations, but favorable.240,241
with a resulting mortality rate of 12%.228,229 Erosion fol- Catheter fracture and embolization is reported to oc-
lowed by tamponade is estimated to take place in 0.2% cur in 0.5%186 to 3% of patients203 with indwelling
of patients,230 with an associated mortality under these CVCs. Embolization can lead to arrhythmia242 with car-
circumstances of nearly 90%.131,132 Use of peripherally diac arrest,243 pulmonary embolism with hemoptysis,244
placed catheters in neonates carries an overall reported perforation, thrombosis, and infection, for an overall
mortality rate of 0.7%,231 because of the disproportion- morbidity rate of 71%245 and a mortality of 30% to
ate higher risk of cardiac tamponade with these type of 38%.245,246 Compression of the central catheter between
lines.232 Although perforation without tamponade can the clavicle and the first rib causes the pinch-off syn-
present as a hemothorax,233 it manifests most commonly drome,247 clinically manifest by a functional occlusion
688 Kusminsky Complications of Central Venous Catheterization J Am Coll Surg

linked to postural changes. The mechanical shearing ter266,267 or guidewire.268 Breakage is frequently a result of
forces on the catheter can, over time, lead to fracture and excessive traction force,246 although the catheter material
embolization. This syndrome is estimated to occur in can sometimes be faulty and ruptures or dilates.269 Acci-
1% of patients,248 and it is important to differentiate it dental CVC removal is a serious problem because of the
from other causes of catheter obstruction, which can be associated risks of hemorrhage and air embolism, and it
done by detecting telling radiographic findings. Because occurs between ⬍ 1% and 7.5% in ICU popula-
raising the arms or shrugging opens the costo-clavicular tions270,271 and in children.269 Rarely, extraction of a
angle, the films should be taken with the patient upright CVC placed in the ipsilateral side of a patient with an AV
and with arms by the side.248,249 Catheter fracture can fistula for dialysis can lead to hemothorax.272 Central
also occur by shearing from the insertion needle or dur- catheters attached to the vein are more commonly a
ing extraction.250 This information suggests that a safer consequence of dwell time273 and the constellation of
way to remove a SCV catheter should include elevation histologic changes associated with fibrin formation.274
of the patient’s arm as traction is applied. Occasionally, a stuck catheter might be a result of frac-
tures in the material.275 This complication has been re-
Extraction complications ported in adults,276 children,277 and with peripherally
Although air embolism can occur during insertion of a inserted lines.278
CVC,251 it is perhaps more commonly seen as a compli-
cation of catheter extraction.252 It is reported to occur in Technical considerations and discussion
0.13%251 to 0.5%3,253 of CVC insertions, with tunneled Over the years, a plethora of reports and adjunct com-
catheters inserted through a peel-away sheath a likelier mentary have highlighted the myriad complications that
source of this complication.251 The associated mortality can befall patients receiving a CVC, in an effort to em-
is substantial, ranging between 23%252 and 50%,254 of- phasize effective prevention opportunities. In this con-
ten if not always connected to neurologic deficits of text, UAI can help the operator decide the relationship
varying degree.255 between artery and vein,41,279 how often the venous anat-
One-hundred milliliters of air can pass through a 14- omy is abnormal,280 which vessel is best to use,281 how
gauge needle in 1 second,255 so it is imperative to be much the head should be turned,282 and the effect of
aware of this possibility during cannulation of any vessel patient position on the diameter of the vein.283
and during catheter exchanges and removal.256 Air em- UAI is not infallible, and certain complications and
bolism has occurred during accidental hub disconnec- precautions require constant operator alertness. Arterial
tion,257 through a residual catheter track,258 as a worri- puncture, for example, can still occur with UAI,20 and
some factor during home infusion therapy,259 and has the methods described to ascertain if a catheter is inside
been reported to lodge in the coronary circulation.260 It an artery are not foolproof, but they are reasonable and
is occasionally a result of inadvertent arterial cannula- effective. Routinely measuring blood gases or attaching
tion, in which case, neurologic sequelae are frequent. the catheter to a transducer is not always practical, nor
During venous catheterization, the path leading the air can physicians realistically be expected to use these tech-
embolus to produce a cerebrovascular accident appears niques on every patient. A simple method to detect ar-
to be mostly by pulmonary shunting or through a patent terial placement might be to return to the standard of
foramen ovale.252,261 When air embolism is recognized, if running saline solution through the line before using a
the usual therapeutic maneuvers—left lateral Trendelen- volumetric pump,112 a practice that perhaps can be re-
burg, air aspiration, 100% oxygen—are not effective, suscitated as part of a standardized method of insertion.
hyperbaric oxygen treatment could be of help.262 Im- Final position of the CVC tip is particularly impor-
proved designs of protective insertion sheaths appear tant in relationship to the complications seen with an
capable of decreasing the incidence of this grave compli- atrial location, or when the tip is curled on itself 236,237
cation.263 Technique standardization should include ed- and exerts pressure against the vessel’s wall. Regardless of
ucation about prevention of air embolism during CVC how rational some arguments in favor of an atrial loca-
insertion30 and removal.255,264 tion might be, the sine qua non of any procedure is
Other extraction complications include breakage,265 patient’s safety, and the mortality of an atrial perforation
separation from the hub,246 and knotting of the cathe- and tamponade makes any such debate a rather gratu-
Vol. 204, No. 4, April 2007 Kusminsky Complications of Central Venous Catheterization 689

itous point. Instead, the scientific world needs the con- plications of central venous catheters. J Intensive Care Med
2006;21:40–46.
tribution of a method that avoids this lethal complica- 6. Mansfield P, Hohn DC, Fornahe BD, et al. Complications and
tion, and such could be the possibility that emerges with failures of subclavian vein catheterization. N Engl J Med 1994;
the use of venous pigtailed catheters.239 331:1735–1738.
7. Takeyama H, Taniguchi M, Sawai H, et al. Limiting vein punc-
The site of insertion remains an issue of discussion ture to three needle passes in subclavian vein catheterization by
and varied preferences, but in terms of infection preven- the infraclavicular approach. Surg Today 2006;36:779–782.
tion the consensus points toward the SCV as the better 8. Foster PJ, Moore LR, Sankary HN, et al. Central venous cath-
route of access.1 The agreement is not as clear in terms of eterization in patients with coagulopathy. Arch Surg 1992;127:
273–275.
prevention of mechanical complications, particularly in 9. Mumtaz H, Williams V, Hauer-Jensen M, et al. Central venous
the areas of malposition and pneumothorax.50 catheter placement in patients with disorders of hemostasis.
Side of insertion also remains a contested theme. Am J Surg 2000;180:503–505.
10. Doerfler ME, Kaufman B, Goldenberg AS. Central venous
Many believe that left-sided insertions are burdened catheter placement in patients with disorders of hemostasis.
with a higher probability of superior vena cava perfora- Chest 1996;110:185–188.
tion68 than access through the right side, although the 11. DeLoughery TG, Liebler JM, Simonds V, et al. Invasive line
placement in critically ill patients: do hemostatic defects mat-
important element of catheter length and its relationship ter? Transfusion 1996;36:827–831.
to this problem is not always emphasized. Others 12. Barrera R, Bushra M, Huang Y, et al. Acute complications of
present good evidence that right-sided SCV and IJV central line placement in profoundly thrombocytopenic cancer
patients. Cancer 1996;78:2025–2030.
insertions are likelier to induce arterial injury,114,122 al- 13. Fontes B, Ferreira Filho AA, Carelli CR, et al. Percutaneous
though the left side offers a smoother and more obtuse catheterization of the subclavian vein in hemophiliac patients:
angle of subclavian approach.284 A left-sided approach is report of 47 cases. Int Surg 1992;77:118–121.
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