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Transesophageal echocardiographic assessment of superior vena cava thrombosis in patients with long-term central venous hemodialysis catheters.

Clinical Nephrology 1994 September
In some patients with end-stage renal failure, arteriovenous fistulas cannot be created due to poor vessel conditions. Alternatively, hemodialysis (HD) can be performed using long-term central venous catheters. However, these dialysis catheters are associated with a presently unknown risk of superior vena cava (SVC) thrombosis. We examined 20 patients (11 female, 9 male, age 29-83 years) 1-48 (mean 15) months after transjugular insertion of a permanent single lumen silicone rubber HD catheter. All patients underwent both transthoracic (TTE) and biplane transesophageal (TEE) echocardiography. TTE visualized the catheter only when its tip was localized in the right atrium (2 patients), but did not succeed in adequate imaging of the SVC. In contrast, TEE allowed high quality imaging of the SVC in all patients and detected a SVC thrombosis in 6 patients; in 3 of them, caval thrombosis was subtotal. One additional patient showed a thrombus attached to the catheter tip alone. Dwelling time of catheters since insertion in the SVC was not significantly different in patients with and without thrombosis. Reduced blood flow during HD was observed in 5 of 7 patients with catheter-associated thrombi but also in 4 of 13 patients without evidence for caval thrombosis by TEE. It is concluded that thrombotic occlusion of the SVC is frequent in patients with long-term central venous access; it does not necessarily correlate with clinical signs but can easily be detected by TEE. Patients with long-term central venous hemodialysis catheters should undergo transesophageal echocardiography at regular intervals.

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