Vascular air embolism is a potentially life-threatening event that is now encountered routinely in the operating room and other patient care areas. The circumstances under which physicians and nurses may encounter air embolism are no longer limited to neurosurgical procedures conducted in the "sitting position" and occur in such diverse areas as the interventional radiology suite or laparoscopic surgical center. Advances in monitoring devices coupled with an understanding of the pathophysiology of vascular air embolism will enable the physician to successfully manage these potentially challenging clinical scenarios. A comprehensive review of the etiology and diagnosis of vascular air embolism, including approaches to prevention and management based on experimental and clinical data, is presented. This compendium of information will permit the healthcare professional to rapidly assess the relative risk of vascular air embolism and implement monitoring and treatment strategies appropriate for the planned invasive procedure.