Traditionally, the positioning of central venous catheters (CVCs) outside the right atrium (RA) in patients receiving intensive care is determined by surrogate landmarks on bedside chest radiographs (CXRs). The validity of this method was examined by comparing readings of radiologists with the results of transesophageal echocardiography (TEE).
Prospective study at university hospital. Two hundred thirteen adults scheduled for cardiothoracic surgery were randomized to right or left internal jugular vein catheterization under ECG guidance. One senior radiologist and two radiologists in training independently read the CXRs, and determined whether the CVC tip ended in the RA and measured the vertical distance from the CVC tip to the carina (TC-distance).
Two hundred twelve CVC tips could be identified by TEE. Only left-sided CVCs (n = 5) ended in the upper RA (2.4%). Three of those patients were shorter than 160 cm. Specificity was 94% for senior radiologist, 44% for the first radiologist in training, and 60% for the second radiologist in training. The TC-distance of intraatrial catheters was 39, 55, 59, 80, and 83 mm, respectively. Thus, a TC-distance ≤ 55 mm ensured extraatrial tip position in four of five intraatrial CVCs (80%, p = 0.002). The TC-distance of extraatrial catheters ranged from − 26 to 102 mm.
Reading of a bedside CXR alone is not very accurate to identify intraatrial CVC tip position. TC-distance is a helpful marker, and its specificity is as good as that of an experienced radiologist if a cutoff value of 55 mm is chosen.