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Air embolisms may threaten patient health

Patients in Rhode Island and elsewhere face numerous risks when they go into surgery. Some of these risks, such as adverse reactions to anesthesia, are unforeseeable and may occur despite doctors’ best precautions. Other dangers are the result of a preventable medical mistake. One such risk is an air embolism. This, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, is what happens when air bubbles enter the bloodstream, which may cause a serious health hazard.

Usually, small bubbles of air in a vein or artery don’t pose a risk because they’re too small to cause damage. If, however, an air embolism is large, it may lodge in the heart, lungs or brain. In this case, states Healthline, blood flow is stopped and severe problems can occur if emergency measures aren’t taken immediately. A large air embolism can cause a fatal or disabling respiratory failure, stroke or heart attack.

Fortunately, dangerous air embolisms are relatively rare. They occur most often during brain surgery. In fact, air embolisms are present in as many as 80 percent of all brain surgeries, but they are usually caught during the procedure.

An air embolism may occur if air gets in through an IV, syringe or catheter. It can also happen when a patient is hooked up to a breathing ventilator because of lung trauma, which may push air bubbles into a damaged artery or vein.

The symptoms of an air embolism include chest pain, difficulty breathing, joint or muscle pain, confusion or unconsciousness. Patients may also suffer from low blood pressure, heart or respiratory failure or have a blue tinge to the skin. Immediate medical attention is necessary if these symptoms present themselves after a medical procedure. Patients or their families may be able to pursue legal action if a hospital error resulted in a dangerous air embolism.

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