Purpose: Thrombosis associated with central venous catheters is a significant cause of device failure, morbidity, and loss of access sites. We hypothesized that central vein thrombosis is caused by catheter injury to the vein wall and that it can be reduced by stabilizing the catheter tip. To test these hypotheses, we studied central vein catheters in a porcine model. Test catheters had a silicone-encased stainless steel loop at the indwelling end that contacted the vein wall and stabilized the catheter tip in the center of the vessel.
Methods: Sealed silicon elastic (Silastic) catheters (3.2 mm outer diameter) with and without a stabilizing loop were inserted via the external jugular vein into the superior vena cava just above the right atrium. Animals were killed at 1, 2, 4, and 8 weeks, and the vena cava was inspected for the presence of thrombus and entrapment of the catheter tip.
Results: In control animals mural thrombus developed at the site of the catheter tip. This thrombus organized by invasion of macrophages and smooth muscle cells, eventually forming a lesion similar to intimal hyperplasia. Lesion cross-sectional area was significantly smaller in animals with loop catheters than in control animals at 2 weeks (1.2 +/- 1.3 vs 34.5 +/- 23.9 mm2; p = 0.05) and 4 weeks (2.8 +/- 0.3 vs 13.9 +/- 5.8 mm2; p < 0.05). By 8 weeks the vena cava was nearly occluded in most animals and the catheter tip was entrapped in this lesion in all cases. Test catheters eliminated the injury process for up to 8 weeks (p < 0.01, chi2 control vs loop catheter entrapment). Very little injury response was found where the loop contacted the vein wall, and the catheter tip was free of thrombus in all cases.
Conclusions: Mural thrombosis at the tip of indwelling central catheters is caused by chronic mechanical venous wall injury. Vessel injury and the resulting thrombosis can be prevented by a catheter modification that stabilizes the tip. Such a catheter may significantly reduce catheter malfunction and morbidity associated with these devices.