What are the signs and symptoms of venous air embolism (VAE)?

Updated: Dec 30, 2017
  • Author: Brenda L Natal, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Erik D Schraga, MD  more...
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Most cases of venous air embolism (VAE) go unrecognized because their presentations are protean and mimic other cardiac, pulmonary, and neurologic dysfunctions, such as the following (in awake patients) [16, 29] :

  • Acute dyspnea, tachypnea
  • Continuous cough
  • "Gasp" reflex (a classic gasp at times reported when a bolus of air enters the pulmonary circulation and causes acute hypoxemia) [1, 2]
  • Dizziness/lightheadedness/vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Headache, seizures
  • Syncope
  • Substernal chest pain
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Anxiety/agitation/disorientation/sense of "impeding doom"
  • Ataxia

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