Complete step section microscopic study of a Swan-Ganz catheter-related pulmonary artery rupture: a frequently lethal complication that to our knowledge has not had a comprehensive microscopic examination: case report and literature review

Cardiovasc Pathol. Nov-Dec 2017;31:17-19. doi: 10.1016/j.carpath.2017.06.011. Epub 2017 Jul 4.


Background: Introduced in 1970, the Swan-Ganz catheter (SGC) soon became widely used because of its unique usefulness in managing intensive care patients. Unfortunately, SGC usage was complicated by pulmonary artery rupture (PAR) with a 50% mortality rate that led to a near banning of the SCG in the late 1980s. Increasing knowledge and decreasing incidence of SGC-related PARs (SGPARs) led to the current feeling that the present SGPAR incidence is now low enough to tolerate given the lives saved by SGC usage. However, an important unknown is that, to our knowledge, pathologists have never published a comprehensive microscopic description of a SGPAR.

Case report: A 73-year-old woman with moderate pulmonary hypertension died from a SGPAR soon after single SGC measurements of right ventricular and pulmonary capillary wedge pressures. By using what we thought to be an appropriate method of dissection, we did a complete microscopic step section study of the 1.6 cm SGPAR revealing 12 relatively uniform longitudinal tears (one perforating) consistent with an overinflated SGC balloon or a weakened arterial wall.

Literature review: A MEDLINE search of 38 consecutive SGPARs from 2014 to 1980 found 52 cases in 38 papers. Analysis revealed that all 46 SGPARs suitable for study came from large institutions, and confirmed that elderly women were more likely to have SGPARs than elderly men.

Conclusions: More and better data are needed before fully informed decisions can be made regarding future SGC usage.

Keywords: Pulmonary artery rupture; Swan–Ganz catheter.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Catheterization, Swan-Ganz / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / surgery
  • Pulmonary Artery / pathology*
  • Rupture, Spontaneous