Microscopic air embolism during cerebral angiography and strategies for its avoidance

Lancet. 1993 Mar 27;341(8848):784-7. doi: 10.1016/0140-6736(93)90561-t.


Cerebral angiography is associated with a risk of neurological complications and air embolism may contribute towards this risk. To test this hypothesis, transcranial doppler ultrasonography was used to monitor the presence of air emboli in the middle cerebral arteries of 7 patients undergoing cerebral angiography. Doppler signals consistent with numerous air emboli were noted during each injection of radiographic contrast. This phenomenon was studied further in sheep. Radiographic contrast medium was injected into the carotid artery while a major carotid branch was insonated transorbitally. Embolic signals similar to those seen in patients were noted. Air was introduced at two points. First, at the time of drawing up the contrast into the syringe, especially with more viscous media. Standing the media before injection resulted in a highly significant reduction of air embolism, reducing the total mean duration of emboli from 1.32 (SD 0.60) s after immediate injection to 0.04 (0.05) s after ten minutes standing for iohexol 340 mg/mL (p < 0.001). Second, air was introduced at the time of injection, possibly by the formation of cavitation bubbles under pressure. This occurred most prominently with the less viscous contrast media and with saline, and was significantly reduced by slow injection (mean duration of emboli for saline 2.85 [2.43] s with fast injection compared with 0.32 [0.37] s with slow injection, p = 0.004). Air embolism may contribute towards neurological dysfunction after angiography. Measures should be taken to reduce this by allowing contrast media to stand prior to injection, and by flushing catheters with saline injected slowly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Angiography / adverse effects*
  • Cerebral Angiography / methods
  • Cerebral Arteries / diagnostic imaging
  • Embolism, Air / diagnostic imaging
  • Embolism, Air / etiology*
  • Embolism, Air / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Embolism and Thrombosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Intracranial Embolism and Thrombosis / etiology
  • Intracranial Embolism and Thrombosis / prevention & control
  • Iohexol / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sheep
  • Ultrasonography


  • Iohexol