AIR EMBOLISM - Watsons Health


An air embolism, also called a gas embolism­, occurs when one or more air bubbles enter a vein or artery and block it. When an air bubble enters a vein, it’s called a venous air embolism. When an air bubble enters an artery, it’s called an arterial air embolism.

These air bubbles can travel to your brain, heart, or lungs and cause a heart attack, stroke, or respiratory failure. Air embolisms are rather rare.

A minor air embolism may cause very mild symptoms, or none at all. Symptoms of a severe air embolism might include:

  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory failure
  • Chest pain or heart failure
  • Muscle or joint pains
  • Stroke
  • Mental status changes, such as confusion or loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blue skin hue


Doctors might suspect that you have an air embolism if you are experiencing symptoms, and something recently happened to you that could cause such a condition, such as a surgery or lung injury.

Doctors use equipment that monitor airway sounds, heart sounds, breathing rate, and blood pressure to detect air embolisms during surgeries.

If a doctor suspects that you have an air embolism, they may perform an ultrasound or CT scan to confirm or rule out its presence, while also identifying its exact anatomical location.



Treatment has three goals: to stop the source of the air embolism, to prevent the air embolism from damaging your body, and to resuscitate you, if necessary.

In some cases, your doctor will know how the air is entering your body. In these situations, they will correct the problem to prevent future embolisms.

Your doctor may also place you in a sitting position to help stop the embolism from traveling to your brain, heart, and lungs. You may also take medications, such as adrenaline, to keep your heart pumping.

If possible, your doctor will remove the air embolism through surgery. Another treatment option is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This is a painless treatment during which you occupy a steel, high-pressurized room that delivers 100 percent oxygen. This therapy can cause an air embolism to shrink, so it can be absorbed into your bloodstream without causing any damage.

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