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Phlegmasia cerulea dolens with compartment syndrome: A complication of femoral vein catheterization

Wood, Kenneth E. DO; Reedy, Jeremiah S. MD; Pozniak, Myron A. MD; Coursin, Douglas B. MD

Case Reports

Objective: Central venous catheterization is commonly performed in the critically ill. The femoral vein is widely accepted as an insertion site with complications thought to be comparable to other central access sites. We used serial ultrasound examinations with Doppler to examine the evolution of a heretofore undescribed complication of femoral vein catheterization, phlegmasia cerulea dolens with compartment syndrome.

Design: Serial ultrasounds were performed in patients before the insertion of femoral venous catheters and sequentially every 48 hrs while the catheters were in place. The noncatheterized leg served as a control.

Setting: A trauma and life support center of a tertiary multidisciplinary critical care unit.

Patient: A 32-yr-old man with respiratory failure as a consequence of a severe community-acquired pneumonia that required central venous access for antibiotics because no peripheral sites could be obtained.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and Main Results: The initial ultrasound examination of both legs before femoral catheter insertion revealed no sign of venous thrombosis. Ultrasound of the catheterized leg at 48 hrs revealed a small nonocclusive thrombosis, whereas the opposite leg remained normal. At 72 hrs, the catheterized leg had clinical and ultrasonographic evidence of a massive thrombosis. A compartment syndrome defined by pressure measurements soon ensued and required emergent surgical release.

Conclusions: This case report and a review of the available literature suggest that thrombosis associated with femoral vein catheterization should be considered when clinicians decide where to obtain central venous access when multiple sites are available. This report also suggests the utility of serial ultrasound examinations to define clinically nonapparent thrombosis as an early indicator of a potentially catastrophic complication.

From the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Trauma and Life Support Center, Madison, WI.

Address requests for reprints to: Kenneth E. Wood, DO, Trauma and Life Support Center, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Department of Medicine, J5/220 Clinical Science Center, 600 Highland Ave., Madison, WI 53792-2454.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.