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Incidence and Management of Venous Air Embolisms during Awake Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery in a Large Clinical Series

Chang E.F. · Cheng J.S. · Richardson R.M. · Lee C. · Starr P.A. · Larson P.S.
Department of Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, Calif., USA Stereotact Funct Neurosurg 2011;89:76–82 (DOI:10.1159/000323335)


Background/Aims: Venous air embolism (VAE) is a potential complication during neurosurgical procedures, particularly in the sitting position. The diagnosis and management of VAE in patients undergoing awake deep brain stimulation (DBS) lead implantation in the sitting position are underreported. Methods: We performed a retrospective chart review of 467 consecutive DBS surgeries at the University of California, San Francisco. Data was collected for patient demographics, diagnosis, intraoperative events, and postoperative course. Results: Six cases of clinically diagnosed VAE were found, amounting to a total incidence of 1.3% per procedure. We did not observe a statistical association with patient age, diagnosis, or DBS target. The most common symptoms of intraoperative VAE were coughing, oxygen desaturation, and hypotension. In all cases, VAE was treated by copious irrigation of the surgical field and lowering the patient’s head. In 4 cases, DBS implantation was abandoned because of ongoing symptoms of VAE. The respiratory outcome in all patients was good after several days of close observation. Conclusion: The incidence of VAE during DBS procedures is small, but prompt recognition and management of VAE are critical to avoid further associated complications.


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