Risk and significance of venous air embolism at neurosurgical operations in the position of sitting at adults. Article

R.S. Lakotko, D.A. Averyanov, A.V. Shchyogolev

Kirov Military Medical Academy, Saint-Petersburg, Russia

For correspondence: Roman S. Lakotko, Department of Anesthesilogy and Reanimatology, Kirov Military Medical Academy, Saint-Petersburg; e-mail: rom-sl@mail.ru

For citation: Lakotko RS, Averyanov DA, Shchyogolev AV. Risk and significance of venous air embolism at neurosurgical operations in the position of sitting at adults. Article. Annals of Critical Care. 2019;4:68–72.

DOI: 10.21320/1818-474X-2019-4-68-72


Background. Currently, the patientʼs sitting position has largely lost popularity among neurosurgeons mainly due to fears of possible complications. This position involves certain risks, the most dangerous of which are venous air embolism and paradoxical air embolism.

Materials and methods. We report a retrospective study that included 66 neurosurgical patients operated on in a sitting position in 2 years. Preoperative examination, anesthetic management, and intraoperative monitoring have been standardized. The analysis included data from anesthetic charts and protocols of intaoperative monitoring.

Results. Of 66 patients, 24 (36 %) were diagnosed with patent foramen ovale using contrast transesophageal echocardiography with Valsalva breakdown. The anomaly was not considered as a contraindication for surgery in a sitting position. Venous air embolism during surgery was diagnosed in 34 patients (51.5 %). However, clinically significant complications developed in 3 patients (4.5 %). None of the patients had complications requiring therapy in the postoperative period.

Conclusion. Our study shows that an anaesthetic support model like ours is effective in preventing major complications associated with the patientʼs sitting position. The fear of fatal complications seems unfounded.

Keywords: VAE, PFO, TEE, sitting position

Received: 05.04.2019

Accepted: 05.11.2019


  1. Harrison E.A., Mackersie A., McEwan A., Facer E. The sitting position for neurosurgery in children: a review of 16 years’ experience. Br J Anaesth. 2002; 88(1): 12–17. DOI:10.1093/bja/88.1.12
  2. Orliaguet G.A., Hanafi M., Meyer P.G., et al. Is the sitting or the prone position best for surgery for posterior fossa tumours in children? Paediatr Anaesth. 2001; 11(5): 541–547. DOI:10.1046/j.1460-9592.2001.00733.x
  3. Fathi A.-R., Eshtehardi P., Meier B. Patent foramen ovale and neurosurgery in sitting position: a systematic review. Br J Anaesth. 2009; 102(5): 588–596. DOI:10.1093/bja/aep063
  4. Young M.L., Smith D.S., Murtagh F., et al. Comparison of surgical and anesthetic complications in neurosurgical patients experiencing venous air embolism in the sitting position. Neurosurgery. 1986; 18(2): 157–161. DOI:10.1227/00006123-198602000-00007
  5. Matjasko J., Petrozza P., Cohen M., Steinberg P. Anesthesia and Surgery in the Seated Position: Analysis of 554 Cases. Neurosurgery. 1985; 17(5): 695–702. DOI:10.1227/00006123-198511000-00001
  6. Standefer R., et al. The Sitting Position in Neurosurgery: A Retrospective Analysis of 488 Cases. Neurosurgery. 1984; 14(6): 649–658. DOI:10.1227/00006123-198406000-00001
  7. Albin M.S., Carroll R.G., Maroon J.C. Clinical Considerations Concerning Detection of Venous Air Embolism. Neurosurgery. 1978; 3(3): 380–384. DOI:10.1227/00006123-197811000-00009
  8. Basaldella L., Ortolani V., Corbanese U., et al. Massive venous air embolism in the semi-sitting position during surgery for a cervical spinal cord tumor: anatomic and surgical pitfalls. J Clin Neurosci. 2009; 16(7): 972–975. DOI:10.1016/J.JOCN.2008.10.005
  9. Israelyan L.A., Shimanskiy V.N., Otamanov D.A., et al. Patient positioning on the operating table in neurosurgery: sitting or lying. Russian journal of Anaesthesiology and Reanimatology. 2013; 80(2013): 18–26.
  10. Palmon S.C., Moore L.E., Lundberg J., Toung T. Venous air embolism: A review. J Clin Anesth. 1997; 9: 251-257. DOI:10.1016/S0952-8180(97)00024-X
  11. Jadik S., Wissing H., Friedrich K., et al. A standardized protocol for the prevention of clinically relevant venous air embolism during neurosurgical interventions in the semisitting position. Neurosurgery. 2009; 64(3): 533–539. DOI:10.1227/01.NEU.0000338432.55235.D3
  12. Averyanov D.A., Lakotko R.S., Khomenko E.A., Shchegolev A.V. Patent Foramen Ovale Incidence and Severity in Neurosurgical Patients. Russian journal of Anaesthesiology and Reanimatology. 2018; 3: 54–57. DOI:10.17116/anaesthesiology201803154
  13. Majd R.E., Kavarana M.N., Bouvette M., Dowling R.D. Improved Technique to Diagnose a Patent Foramen Ovale During Left Ventricular Assist Device Insertion. Ann Thorac Surg. 2006; 82(5): 1917–1918. DOI:10.1016/J.ATHORACSUR.2005.09.030
  14. Christin F., Bouffard Y., Rossi R., Delafosse B. Paradoxical Symptomatic Air Embolism after Saline Contrast Transesophageal Echocardiography. Echocardiography. 2007; 24(8): 867–869. DOI:10.1111/j.1540-8175.2007.00489.x
  15. Porter J.M., Pidgeon C., Cunningham A.J. The sitting position in neurosurgery: A critical appraisal. Br J Anaesth. 1999; 82(1): 117–128. DOI:10.1093/bja/82.1.117
  16. Babichev K.N., Stanishevskiy A.V., Svistov D.V., et al. Surgical resection of fourth ventricular tumors. Comparison of the efficiency and safety of telovelar and median aperture approaches to the fourth ventricle. Russian journal of neurosurgery. 2018; 20(4): 10–19. DOI:10.17650/1683-3295-2018-20-4-10-19
  17. Feigl G.C., Decker K., Wurms M., et al. Neurosurgical procedures in the semisitting position: Evaluation of the risk of paradoxical venous air embolism in patients with a patent foramen ovale. World Neurosurg. 2014; 81(1): 159–164. DOI:10.1016/j.wneu.2013.01.003
  18. Faberowski L.W., Black S., Mickle J.P. Incidence of Venous Air Embolism during Craniectomy for Craniosynostosis Repair. Anesthesiol J Am Soc Anesthesiol. 2000; 92(1): 20–20. DOI:10.1097/00006123-199909000-00208
  19. Luostarinen T., Lindroos A.-C., Niiya T., et al. Prone Versus Sitting Position in Neurosurgery – Differences in Patients’ Hemodynamic Management. World Neurosurg. 2017; 97: 261–266. DOI:10.1016/j.wneu.2016.10.005
  20. Lindroos A.-C., Niiya T., Randell T., et al. Sitting Position for Removal of Pineal Region Lesions: The Helsinki Experience. World Neurosurg. 2010; 74(4–5): 505–513. DOI:10.1016/j.wneu.2010.09.026
  21. Stendel R., Gramm H.J., Schröder K., et al. Transcranial doppler ultrasonography as a screening technique for detection of a patent foramen ovale before surgery in the sitting position. Anesthesiology. 2000; 93(4): 971–975. DOI:10.1097/00000542-200010000-00016
  22. Gale T., Leslie K. Anaesthesia for neurosurgery in the sitting position. J Clin Neurosci. 2004; 11(7): 693–696. DOI:10.1016/j.jocn.2004.05.007
  23. Black S., Ockert D.B., Oliver W.C., Cucchiara R.F. Outcome following posterior fossa craniectomy in patients in the sitting or horizontal positions. Anesthesiology. 1988; 69(1): 49–56. DOI:10.1097/00000542-198807000-00008
  24. Ammirati M, Lamki T.T., Shaw A.B., et al. A streamlined protocol for the use of the semi-sitting position in neurosurgery: A report on 48 consecutive procedures. J Clin Neurosci. 2013; 20(1): 32–34. DOI:10.1016/j.jocn.2012.05.037
  25. Leslie K., Hui R., Kaye A.H. Venous air embolism and the sitting position: A case series. J Clin Neurosci. 2006; 13(4): 419–422. DOI:10.1016/j.jocn.2005.08.007
  26. Tobias J.D., Johnson J.O., Jimenez D.F., et al. Venous Air Embolism during Endoscopic Strip Craniectomy for Repair of Craniosynostosis in Infants. Anesthesiology. 2001; 95(2): 340–342. DOI:10.1097/00000542-200108000-00013
  27. Ganslandt O., Merkel A., Schmitt H., et al. The sitting position in neurosurgery: indications, complications and results. a single institution experience of 600 cases. Acta Neurochir (Wien). 2013; 155(10): 1887–1893. DOI:10.1007/s00701-013-1822-x
  28. Giebler R., Kollenberg B., Pohlen G., Eters J. Effect of Positive End-Expiratory Pressure on the Incidence of Venous Air Embolism and on the Cardiovascular Response to the Sitting Position During Neurosurgery. Surv Anesthesiol. 1998; 42(5): 272. DOI:10.1097/00132586-199810000-00022