Pneumothorax is a rare complication of thoracic central venous catheterization in community EDs

Am J Emerg Med. 2015 Jan;33(1):60-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2014.10.020. Epub 2014 Oct 18.


Study objectives: The rate of iatrogenic pneumothorax associated with thoracic central venous catheterization in community emergency departments (EDs) is poorly described, although such information is vital to inform the procedure's risk/benefit analysis. We undertook this multicenter study to estimate the incidence of immediate catheter-related pneumothorax in community EDs and to determine associations with site of access, failed access, and positive pressure ventilation.

Methods: This was a secondary analysis of 2 retrospective cohort studies of adults who underwent attempted thoracic central venous catheterization in 1 of 21 EDs. Pneumothorax was identified by postprocedural anteroposterior chest radiograph or emergent evacuation for presumed tension pneumothorax. Frequencies were compared using Fisher's exact test.

Results: Among 1249 patient encounters, the initial vein of catheterization was internal jugular in 1054 cases (84.4%) and subclavian in 195 cases (15.6%). Success at the initial internal jugular vein was more common than at the initial subclavian vein (95.4% vs 83.6%, P < .001). Periprocedural positive pressure ventilation was administered in 316 patients (25.3%). We identified 6 pneumothoraces (0.5%; 95% confidence interval, 0.2%-1.1%). The incidence of pneumothorax was higher with the subclavian vein than the internal jugular vein (2.3% vs 0.1%, P < .001), with failed access at the initial vein (2.5% vs 0.3%, P = .05), and among patients receiving positive pressure ventilation (1.6% vs 0.1%, P < .01).

Conclusion: The incidence of pneumothorax from thoracic central venous catheterization in community EDs is low. The risk of pneumothorax is higher with a subclavian vein approach, failed access at the initial vein, and positive pressure ventilation.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Catheterization, Central Venous / adverse effects*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Hospitals, Community
  • Humans
  • Pneumothorax / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Thorax / blood supply*