Pulmonary edema due to air embolism

Pulmonary edema due to air embolism is one for the uncommon causes of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema. It usually occurs as an iatrogenic complication of an invasive procedure. Rarely, it may also be associated with open or closed chest trauma. 

Air may enter into the low-pressure venous system when a pressure gradient favors such access. This occurs most frequently during neurosurgical procedures 2,3 performed with the patient in the sitting position and during manipulation or placement of central venous lines. 

Mechanical obstruction of the pulmonary microvasculature from embolized air bubbles can occur due to the relatively low absorption coefficient of air. These then create turbulent flow, which favors platelet aggregation, fibrin formation, and vasoconstriction, and increasing the pressure exerted on the vessel wall. 

Non-mechanical factors such as the liberation of oxygen radicals from neutrophils may also contribute to the disruption of the capillary endothelium. Macromolecules, proteins, and blood cells may then enter the interstitial and alveolar spaces. 

This then creates a variable pathologic picture that ranges from mild interstitial edema to hemorrhagic airspace consolidation.

May be difficult to differentiate from other causes of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema. Chest radiography may initially demonstrate an interstitial edema pattern followed by bilateral, peripheral alveolar areas of increased opacity with a basal predilection 1. There is no associated cardiomegaly, and the radiographic changes often rapidly disappear in patients who survive the acute event.

Share article

Article information

rID: 19303
System: Vascular, Chest
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Pulmonary edema due to air embolism
  • Pulmonary oedema due to air emboli
  • Pulmonary edema due to air emboli
  • Pulmonary oedema from air embolism

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Updating… Please wait.

 Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

 Thank you for updating your details.