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The application of transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) has been continuously increasing over past several decades. It is usually considered a very safe diagnostic and monitoring device. Though the complications are rare, but these complications must be known to the operators performing TEE. The goal of this article is to encapsulate the potential complications associated with TEE. The complications are primarily related to gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and respiratory systems along with some miscellaneous problems related to probe insertion, drugs and inexperience of the operator. Strategies for the prevention of these complications are also analyzed in order to avoid the risk.
Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) is a semi invasive monitoring and diagnostic modality of immense utility. The practical clinical use of TEE was first described in 1976 when a modified rigid endoscopic probe with single M-mode crystal was used. Since that time, TEE technology has evolved rapidly with developments in flexible endoscopic probe technology, phased-array ultrasound systems, and crystal miniaturization. Presently, TEE is being used widely in operation theatres, intensive care units, cardiac catheterization laboratory and day care units. Although the technique is quite safe, if conducted by a skilled person, it is important to overview the procedure related complications, considering its widespread use. In the following article, we are trying to give a deep insight regarding the complications of TEE examinations.
Dental trauma1, submucosal hematoma of pharyngeal area2,3 jaw subluxation4,5 and tonsillar bleeding are related to probe insertion in upper gastrointestinal(GI) tract. Esophageal perforations mostly occur in the abdominal followed by intrathoracic and cervical portions of the esophagus. They are caused by anatomic variations like GI abnormalities, extrinsic compression of esophagus from enlarged left atrium,6,7 calcified lymph node8 and cervical spur. Other causes are poor patient cooperation and inadequate technical skill or mucosal damage due to movement, ischemia, heat and pressure generated by the probe (TEE probe can generate a pressure of 60mmHg ).
The hypopharynx and upper esophagus are most prone to perforation3caused by neck extension with or without prominent anterior vertebral osteophytes and by stretching of mucosa and muscular fibres. Shearing forces, prolonged flexion of probe tip and probe mobilization in a locked position can lead to tearing of oesophagus.9
In conscious and sedated patient, perforations are evident from signs of subcutaneous emphysema, dyspnoea and pain. But under general anaesthesia, esophageal intubation is easy and perforation usually goes unnoticed, ultimately resulting in mediastinitis, sepsis and multi organ failure.13 Diagnosis can be confirmed radiologically by computed tomography and chest radiographs and may include findings like pneumothorax, air–fluid level, mediastinal shift, subcutaneous emphysema, pleural effusion and empyema.
Lesions such as neoplasm, diverticulum4, cervical spine2,14 or inflammatory mucosal changes are risk factors for complications associated with TEE probe insertion. As there is no direct visualization of esophagus during TEE probe insertion and manipulations, it requires more attention compared to conventional optical gastroscopy. Esophageal intubations most often fail at the level of cricopharynx due to prominence of cricoid muscle. Schatzki's ring and prior cervical surgery15 can lead to esophageal narrowing and can cause complications during TEE. Disorders like esophageal achalasia, barrett's esophagus, chemical esophagitis, late scleroderma, Chagas disease and benign and malignant esophageal tumors can reduce esophageal lumen. Peptic ulcer and gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD) can lead to strictures which ultimately can cause erosion and bleeding of esophagus. Probe of TEE can easily slip into Zenkers diverticulum and can cause perforation.16
Normal anatomical variations like aortic impression, large left atrium and left main bronchus or pathological variations such as mediastinal tumours7 and esophageal duplication cyst compress esophagus and hamper esophageal intubations.17
Vascular abnormalities like esophageal varices due to portal hypertension can cause bleeding during TEE.18 Cervical spine abnormalities due to trauma or subluxation at C1 and C2 vertebrae may make esophageal intubation difficult and can also lead to neurological deficit.19
Factors contributing to this problem are lack of cooperation from patients and inexperience of operator as well as anatomic abnormalities like double aortic arch20, cervical osteophytes21 and mucosal abnormalities such as prior radiation exposure, decreased saliva production and prior tracheostomy. Mallory-Weiss syndrome which is associated with forceful vomiting efforts has been reported during TEE which leads to failed intubations.21
Risk factors associated with upper GI bleeding due to TEE include previous ulcerative process, vasoactive drugs and failure to use H2 antagonist drugs in the perioperative period.22 Long bypass period, reoperation23, emergency surgery, aspirin24 and anti-coagulant25 use are other factors which are associated with GI bleeding.
TEE exposes the esophageal mucosa to ultra sound waves and pressure for long periods. Mucosal edema, erosion, hematomas and petechiae can be produced specially in small children.26
Splenic laceration can occur due to deep insertion of the probe into the stomach for transgastric imaging .27 Dysphagia can occur due to local compression from probe insertion which affects pharyngoesophageal tissue and laryngeal nerve especially in female and paediatric patients.28–30 Dysphagia is also associated with pulmonary aspiration. TEE in sitting position can cause dysphasia which is due to local effect of probe, combined with extreme flexion of head.31 Tongue swelling32 and necrosis33 may also occur due to prolonged placement of TEE probe.
TEE examinations in sedated patient may be associated with small reduction of O2 saturation. Incidence of oxygen desaturation and aspiration increases with obesity 37 and during emergency procedures.38 To avoid this complication, oxygen supplementation is advocated in sedated patient. In awake patients, problems such as bronchospasm, laryngospasm, posterior pharyngeal wall hematoma, supraglottic hematoma and stenosis may occur along with pulmonary edema, atelectasis and airway obstruction.39–44 TEE probe placement, motion and removal may lead to displacement or accidental extubation of endotracheal tube particularly in children.45 Compression of pulmonary tree or endotracheal tube may hamper ventilation. 44–48
Esophageal intubation can induce vagal and sympathetic reflexes such as hypertension or hypotension, tachy arrhythmias or bradycardia and even myocardial infarction.49–51 Arrhythmias are manifested as non-sustained ventricular and supra ventricular tachy arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation and 3rd degree heart block.52 It can also induce angina and myocardial ischemia. Risk factors like sedation along with fasting, patient on anti-hypertensive drugs and also hypoxemia may precipitate heart failure and fatal arrhythmias.53,54
Valsalva maneuver associated with retching and coughing leads to increase in intrathoracic, central venous and pulmonary pressures and release is associated with abrupt decrease of systemic pressure. Large intrathoracic pressure and associated hemodynamic changes resulting from retching may cause fatal pulmonary embolisation from right atrium mass, 55,56mitral vegetation and left intracardiac thrombus57 resulting in stroke, aortic dissection and cardiac tamponade.58
Risk of bacteremia is associated with TEE and may lead to morbid infections such as endocarditis. The most common organisms responsible for bacteremia after TEE intubation include α-hemolytic streptococcus, staphylococcus aureus and staphylococcus epidermidis. 59
Use of prophylactic antibiotic therapy during TEE, though controversial, is suggested for patients who are immuno suppressed, have prosthetic valves, cyanotic congenital heart disease, surgically constructed shunts and previous history of endocarditis. 60 Contaminated TEE probe and the lubricating jelly are the sources of infection.61,62 A properly cleaned probe with glutaral-dehyde can reduce the incidence of post TEE infections.
Sedation improves patients’ tolerance to TEE probe insertion and reduces coughing, vomiting and pain. Benzodiazepines, propofol and short acting narcotics are most commonly used for sedation. Side effects of these drugs like respiratory depression, hypotension, agitation and allergy may occur and must be treated promptly.
Local anaesthetic used systemically to blunt the hemodynamic effects of TEE, for superior laryngeal nerve block and in jelly can cause anaphylactic or overdose reactions. Congenital absence of methemoglobin reductase enzyme and topical local anaesthetics like prilocaine, lidocaine and benzocaine can lead to methemoglobinemia.63,64,65 It can be diagnosed by central cyanosis and low Hb saturation unresponsive to oxygen therapy. Dyspnoea, confusion, dizziness, coma and death may occur.
Disruption of protective probe sheath can create a lumen between core and sheath which can get filled with fluids and contaminants such as glutaraldehyde and which can be ingested during TEE.66
TEE in emergency unit, especially in trauma patients, leads to more complications such as death, respiratory insufficiency, hypotension, emesis, agitation and cardiac dysrrhythmias. These are the patients which present with compromised hemodynamic and respiratory conditions and unstable cervical spine damage. These patients are with full stomach and altered sensorium and thus are at increased risk of aspiration. Therefore, endotracheal intubation is highly recommended in these patients.
Powerful ultrasound beam can cause vibration of gas filled structures leading to hemorrhage and hemolysis.67 It can also produce excessive heat and damage of surrounding tissues. But in TEE, low intensity of 5MHz is used which is devoid of any harmful effects68,69.
Recent upper gastrointestinal surgery
Thoracic aortic aneurysm
Evaluation and surveillance of patients:
Transesophageal echocardiography provides better imaging of cardiac anatomy and function but since it is more invasive than transthoracic echocardiography, operators should be aware of the likely complications , minimize the risk factors and take measures to prevent the complications.