Ultrasound-guided subclavian vein cannulation has reduced complications, but there is still a high incidence of failure to cannulate the vein and of accidental arterial cannulation. Vassallo & Bennett noticed that a fast running intravenous infusion in the ipsilateral arm of a patient produced variable echogenicity (lighter echos) in the subclavian vein. They describe deliberately using this appearance to both identify the subclavian vein and differentiate it from the subclavian artery.
With the intravenous infusion running with frequent drips in the drip chamber, the ultrasound beam is placed in long axis to the subclavian vessels in the subclavicular position. The angle of the ultrasound beam is adjusted to reveal both the subclavian vein and artery. The variable echogenicity, together with compression, can then be used to identify the vein. The presence of variable echogenicity in the vessel gives continuous feedback that the ultrasound beam has not drifted onto the artery. In cases where the ultrasound beam has included both artery and vein in the same image, this method has clearly identified the intended target vessel.
Subclavian cannulation with ultrasound: a novel method