The presence of air bubbles in the vascular system or heart is referred to as an air embolism. Since these bubbles are more likely to contain gas rather than air, the condition can also be called a gas embolism. Health problems caused by either a gas or air embolism are largely dependent upon how large the bubbles are. Death is the worst outcome that can result from a severe case that has not received treatment. In many cases, a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis can warrant a medical malpractice claim.
Causes of Air or Gas Embolisms
Gas or air embolisms can occur when a pressure gradient exists that promotes the entry of gas into an open blood vessel. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including a faulty catheter, diving, surgical procedures, transfusions, during the removal of an intravenous line, a trauma or while receiving an intravenous injection.
Symptoms of Air and Gas Embolisms
Chest pains and heart problems can occur in patients with an air embolism as a result of restricted blood flow. The patient may also experience seizures, have an altered state of awareness or have skin that is pale in appearance, in addition to low blood pressure, problems breathing, irregular heartbeat, blurred vision and fatigue.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Physicians will typically administer a test that measures arterial blood gas on patients that present with noticeable signs and symptoms of an air or gas embolism. The results obtained from this test will aid the physician in making an accurate diagnosis.
If an emergency situation arises, the patient may be placed in a position in which his or her body is in a slanted position with the head pointing down. This type of treatment prevents the embolism from reaching the heart or brain of the patient. The patient will also be given oxygen during this time and will be resuscitated if the embolism reaches the heart.
Treatment in a hyperbaric chamber has been successful in treating air and gas embolisms. Due to the increase of pressure inside the hyperbaric chamber, the air or gas bubbles gradually decrease in size. Since this treatment requires a high degree of technical knowledge and expertise, it should only be administered by an experienced medical professional.