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Iatrogenic Cerebral Air Embolism During Esophago-Gastroduodenoscopy

Manuel Betancourt-Torres, Adriana Perez-Torres, Laura Figueroa-Diaz, Eduardo J. Labat Alvarez

(Diagnostic Radiology, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Am J Case Rep 2020; 21:e925046

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.925046


BACKGROUND: Cerebral air embolism is a rare iatrogenic complication of endoscopic procedures that can result in irreversible neurological damage. The symptoms of cerebral air embolism are nonspecific and may be attributed to sedation-related complications and central nervous system insults. Having awareness of this rare iatrogenic event and deciding on immediate imaging when it is suspected are essential for prompt diagnosis and treatment.
CASE REPORT: A 72-year-old man with a past medical history of alcoholic liver cirrhosis with associated portal hypertension underwent an outpatient esophago-gastroduodenoscopy for surveillance of esophageal varices. During the procedure, the patient retched several times and developed a mucosal tear, which was repaired using endoscopic clips. After the procedure, the patient remained sedated for a prolonged time and was subsequently unresponsive. Nonenhanced CT of the head showed several foci of gas throughout the subarachnoid spaces. Follow-up nonenhanced brain magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated ischemic changes, which were more prominent along the right cerebral hemisphere.
CONCLUSIONS: Cerebral air embolism is an iatrogenic complication of endoscopic procedures that can result in irreversible neurological damage. It must be included in the differential diagnosis of a patient presenting with altered mental status and neurological deficits after an endoscopic procedure. Diagnostic imaging can be useful in identifying key features of this iatrogenic event. Timely diagnosis and treatment can improve patient outcomes.

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