[Ultrasonic guided cannulation of the axillary vein in intensive care patients]

W Schregel, H Höer, J Radtke, G Cunitz
Der Anaesthesist 1994, 43 (10): 674-9
Cannulation of the axillary vein is claimed to be an effective and relatively safe access to the central venous (CV) system [2, 4, 5, 8]. However, anatomical landmarks recommended for venous location (Muskulus pectoralis minor, processus coracoideus) are probably hard to identify in the majority of intensive care (ICU) patients. This investigation evaluated unidirectional 8 MHz Doppler ultrasound (US) in locating the axillary vein. Success rates and complications of this CV access in ICU patients is analysed. METHODS. The experimental design was approved by the local ethical committee (RUB). In 50 patients from our ICU cannulation of the axillary vein was attempted; all were in need of a CV line. Other CV puncture sites (except for the subclavian vein) were associated with contraindications. Patients were placed in a 15 degrees Trendelenburg position (15 exceptions); the arm was abducted to 45 degrees [5, 8]. The course of the axillary vein was located by Doppler US and marked on the skin with a felt pen. Prior to puncture, US intensity was judged by a score ranging from 0 to 4. After skin desinfection, sterile draping, and local anaesthesia, puncture of the axillary vein was attempted. The puncture kit LeaderCath 11,515 (Vygon, Aachen, FRG) was used. When venous blood could be aspirated, the Seldinger guidewire was inserted and the definite catheter placed. The experimental design allowed up to ten punctures, slightly modified in angle and direction of the needle, if puncture of the axillary vein or guide-wire placement failed. The cannulation attempt was classified as unsuccessful in the following cases: malposition, axillary vein not encountered by the puncture needle, guide-wire placement unsuccessful, or if identification and cannulation of the vein lasted more than 20 min. The puncture attempts were evaluated in respect to success rate, time, relation of US intensity to puncture attempts and CV pressure, complications, and malposition. RESULTS. Of the 50 attempted CV catheters, 43 were placed successfully. In 2 cases the axillary vein could not be encountered by the puncture needle. Guide-wire placement did not succeed in 4 patients. One catheter was malpositioned in the ipsilateral internal jugular vein. Four inadvertent punctures of the axillary artery remained without sequelae after compression. No further puncture-related complications were observed. With high US intensity score the number of puncture attempts necessary for successful vein cannulation was lower. On the other hand, complications and puncture failure seemed to be more frequent in patients with lower US intensity scores. DISCUSSION. CV access via the axillary vein had a satisfying success rate (43/50) and proved to be a safe procedure in our ICU patients despite higher risk factors compared to a healthy population. Although ethical reasons did not allow a randomised comparison with the standard technique, location of the axillary vein by Doppler US is likely to improve cannulation results and reduce complications induced by "blind" needle probing. With a low US intensity score, the rate of successful punctures is lower and complication rates increase. In some patients, e.g., those with extended tumour operations involving the head and neck, CV access via the axillary vein may be of high clinical value.

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