Background: Cardiac tamponade is a rare and sometimes severe complication of umbilical venous catheterization.
Case report: A premature newborn (gestational age: 30 weeks, birth weight: 1,215 g) required assisted ventilation and umbilical venous catheterization for respiratory distress. Subsequent chest X-ray showed the ascending tip of the catheter lying in the left atrium, inside the auricle. At the age of 16 hours, the infant presented with episodes of bradycardia. Despite a second endotracheal intubation, a sudden vascular collapse necessitated cardiac massage plus sodium bicarbonate and epinephrine. An ultrasound examination was performed because of the persistence of the vascular collapse; it showed a clear echo-free space between the epicardium and pericardium, suggesting pericardial effusion. The patient responded dramatically to pericardial aspiration, providing hemorrhagic fluid containing 20 g per liter glucose.
Discussion: Cardiac tamponade probably occurred in this patient as a result of perforation of the atrial wall. Ultrasonography showed no local thrombus, but confirmed the cardiac compression by pericardial fluid and the localization of the tip of catheter in contact with the atrial wall. This case led us to review the mechanical complications of umbilical venous and/or percutaneous catheterization and the rules for their use.
Conclusion: This complication must be suspected in all patients having a central venous catheter that present with vascular collapse.