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Air embolism: the silent killer

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Air embolism: the silent killer

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IV therapy, complication or malpractice?

Our program for legal nurse consultants on IV therapy malpractice and complications revealed some frightening facts. As little as one ounce of air can enter the blood vessel in a second and result in death. Sue RN, a skilled IV therapy expert witness, educator, and author, explained some of the ways that air can get into the intravascular system of a patient when there is:

  1. a hole in the catheter
  2. disconnection of IV tubing
  3. removal of a cap on an intravenous line
  4. accidental pumping or injecting of air
  5. the omission of the step of running IV fluid through a catheter to prime the tubing to remove air
  6. a site of entry above the heart (such as the blood vessels in the neck or upper chest)
  7. an accidental removal of a central intravenous line, such as when a patient pulls the line out
  8. laughing, coughing or sneezing during central line removal

Healthcare professionals can allow air to enter the vein when they do not apply an occlusive dressing over a central line insertion site. Sue defined occlusive as the application of an antimicrobial ointment over the entry site covered by a transparent dressing. Sue pointed out that many deaths from air embolism are undetected because the symptoms are vague, and not associated with an action on the part of a healthcare provider. This is why air embolism is called the silent killer.

Med League has provided highly qualified IV Therapy experts to attorneys who can review your case.

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