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Original Research: CRITICAL CARE MEDICINE |

Is Traditional Reading of the Bedside Chest Radiograph Appropriate To Detect Intraatrial Central Venous Catheter Position?

Melanie Wirsing, MD; Claudia Schummer, MD; Rotraud Neumann, MD; Jörg Steenbeck, MD; Peter Schmidt, MD; Wolfram Schummer, MD, EDIC, EDAA
Author and Funding Information

*From the Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine (Drs. Wirsing, Schummer, and Schummer), and Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology (Drs. Neumann, Streenbeck, and Schmidt), Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Jena, Germany.

Correspondence to: Wolfram Schummer, MD, EDIC, EDAA, Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine, Zentralklinikum Suhl, Albert-Schweitzer-Strasse 2, 98527 Suhl, Germany; e-mail: cwsm.schummer@gmx.de


The work was performed at the Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine (Director: Professor K. Reinhart) Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians (www.chestjournal.org/misc/reprints.shtml).


Chest. 2008;134(3):527-533. doi:10.1378/chest.07-2687
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Background:  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).

Methods:  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).

Results:  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.

Conclusions:  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.

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