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Complications of cerebral air embolism associated with pleural lavage for empyema
  1. Toru Ishihara,
  2. Shota Sato,
  3. Saki Manabe and
  4. Hideki Ozawa
  1. Division of General Internal Medicine, Tokai University School of Medicine, Isehara, Kanagawa, Japan
  1. Correspondence to Dr Toru Ishihara; it735130{at}


Standard initial treatment for acute empyema involves antibiotic administration and chest tube drainage; however, pleural lavage with saline is another treatment that mitigates the need for surgical drainage. Although this treatment is recognised as non-invasive and safe, the complications of cerebral air embolism are less recognised.

In this case, a man in his late 40s was diagnosed with acute empyema and treated with chest tube (28 Fr) drainage and antibiotics. Empyema remained on follow-up chest imaging; thus intrapleural fibrinolytic therapy (urokinase 120 000 units/day for a total of 3 days) and pleural lavage (0.9% saline 1000 mL/day daily) were administered. During the 10th pleural lavage, the patient suddenly became unconscious. Head imaging revealed a cerebral air embolism. Consequently, he received urgent hyperbaric oxygen therapy and improved without any neurological sequelae.

Clinicians should be aware of the complications of sudden cerebral air embolism due to pleural lavage for empyema.

  • Empyema
  • Unwanted effects / adverse reactions
  • Pleural infection

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  • Contributors TI prepared the manuscript. SS and SM provided precise advice and edited the manuscript. HO supervised. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Case reports provide a valuable learning resource for the scientific community and can indicate areas of interest for future research. They should not be used in isolation to guide treatment choices or public health policy.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.