Fatal pulmonary barotrauma due to obstruction of the central circulation with air

J Emerg Med. 1998 May-Jun;16(3):413-7. doi: 10.1016/s0736-4679(98)00006-7.


Cardiac arrest in cases of barotraumatic arterial gas embolism (AGE) is usually ascribed to reflex dysrhythmias secondary to brainstem embolization or secondary to coronary artery embolization. Several case reports suggest that obstruction of the central circulation (i.e., the heart, pulmonary arteries, aorta, and arteries to the head and neck) may play a role in the pathogenesis of sudden death in victims of pulmonary barotrauma. We report three consecutive cases of fatal AGE in patients in whom chest roentgenograms demonstrated confluent air lucencies filling the central vascular bed, the heart, and great vessels. In none of the victims was there evidence by history or at autopsy that the intravascular gas was iatrogenically introduced. Total occlusion of the central vascular bed with air is a mechanism of death in some victims of AGE, and resuscitation efforts for such patients should take this possibility into consideration.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Barotrauma / complications*
  • Barotrauma / pathology
  • Death, Sudden / etiology*
  • Diving / injuries*
  • Embolism, Air / complications*
  • Embolism, Air / pathology
  • Heart Arrest / etiology
  • Heart Arrest / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumothorax / etiology
  • Pneumothorax / pathology