Iatrogenic Pediatric Vascular Lesions

Updated: May 13, 2022
Author: Iman Bayat, MBBS, MRCS(Eng), FRACS(Vasc); Chief Editor: Mary C Mancini, MD, PhD, MMM 


Practice Essentials

The term iatrogenic derives from the Greek words iatros ("physician") and gennan ("to produce"); thus, the term refers to the consequences of medical action. In general, an iatrogenic injury is secondary to one or more of the following:

  • Performance of a high-risk procedure when a lower-risk option is available
  • Lack of medical knowledge, negligence, careless practice, or omission
  • Lack of honesty or medical ethics

Iatrogenic injuries account for a significant proportion (50%) of pediatric vascular trauma. The proportion inversely varies with age, being highest in neonates (80%) and declining to 50% in the 2- to 6-year-old group and to 33% in older children.

Arterial injuries in infants are rare and, in most cases, iatrogenic as a consequence of catheterization, venipuncture, or arterial blood gas (ABG) sampling. These lesions require an accurate, noninvasive clinical diagnosis and prompt exploration and reconstruction with microvascular techniques to restore perfusion and avoid morbidity and even mortality. In this age group, any suspected vascular injury calls for immediate clinical and diagnostic assessment to avoid potential life-threatening complications. Surgery is mandatory in the case of extensive arterial injuries, inadequate distal blood supply, or progressive worsening of ischemic clinical findings.[1]

The widespread use of percutaneous vascular access in children and invasive neonatal resuscitation techniques has led to an increased incidence of vascular complications in the pediatric population. The thrombosis rate in children with vascular access ranges from 1% to 25%.[2, 3]

The risk of iatrogenic vascular injuries secondary to catheterization, cannulation for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), cardiopulmonary bypass (CBP), repeated venipuncture, or ABG sampling has increased. In particular, transfemoral catheterization, transfemoral arteriography, and umbilical artery catheterization used for diagnostic and monitoring purposes have been associated with thromboembolism in the lower extremities.

Although management of these injuries has evolved over time, it is not yet standardized in children. Treatment of these injuries in infants and small children is distinctly different from that in adults. Historically, injured vessels were ligated, or the child was given systemic heparin without repair; however, this expectant therapy resulted in poor limb outcomes, involving high amputation rates and diminished limb growth. Subsequent study determined that aggressive surgical management yields better results, making early diagnosis followed by definitive repair the approach of choice at present.[2]

In children, the small size of the vessels, severe arterial vasospasm, and the consequences of diminished blood flow on limb growth must be considered. Moreover, the need for future growth of blood vessels and long-term duration of the repair must be accounted for.

Follow-up studies to demonstrate protection of the limb by medical and surgical treatment of iatrogenic pediatric vascular injuries are needed. With the advent of newer technology and the clinical possibilities that it offers, the management of these injuries will continue to evolve. There is no doubt that the use minimally invasive techniques will continue to expand.


Certain anatomic factors contribute to the high rates of iatrogenic vascular injury in children. Anatomic variations occurring in the pediatric population, such as angulation of the major access veins (ie, the femoral vein and the internal jugular vein [IJV]) and overlap of arteriovenous structures,  must be considered.[4] ​ Access via the IJV or the subclavian vein appears to be associated with a high risk of arterial puncture.[4, 5]  Vascular access placed at or below the ankle has been found to carry an increased risk of thrombosis.[5]

In addition, the small caliber of the vasculature and the increased mobility of the vessels contribute to the increased risk of iatrogenic vascular injury.[4]  Accordingly, the size and characteristics of a vascular access device must be carefully considered in this population. Catheters with multiple lumens or with a diameter exceeding 50% of the arterial diameter may result in spasm and low flow rates, rendering vessels prone to thrombosis.[2, 4]

With umbilical artery catheters, the pathway is through one of the two umbilical arteries into the internal iliac artery, the common iliac artery, and then the aorta. With transfemoral catheterization, the injury is at the level of the common femoral artery.


Pediatric iatrogenic trauma usually occurs as a result of inadvertent arterial puncture, leading to spasm and thrombotic occlusion. The vascular endothelium has a predominant role in blood coagulation and has numerous interactions with perivascular cells and adjacent tissues. The presence of a catheter in a vessel activates the coagulation cascade, which provokes physical and chemical changes in the vascular endothelium. Additionally, trauma to the endothelial lining secondary to vascular access is prothrombogenic.[6]

The lower total blood volume and increased propensity for vasospasm in children also contributes to the higher rate of iatrogenic vascular complication in the pediatric population as compared with the adult population.[4]  Furthermore, vascular access devices are often used in children with hematologic malignancies and hypercoagulable states.

Several conditions predispose neonates to thrombotic complications, including congenital heart disease with poor cardiac function, polycythemia, sepsis, maternal diabetes or toxemia, dehydration with low intravascular volume, and low-flow states. Neonates also have lowered concentrations of antithrombin III, proteins C and S, and heparin cofactor II, which result in a prothrombotic state.

Evidence also suggests that fibrin sleeves form on catheters. Stripping of the sleeve with removal of the catheter may result in subsequent occlusion at the puncture site or distal embolization.

In a 32-month study, investigators monitored 76 children with regard to iatrogenic injury and found that all injuries involved the arteries of the lower extremities.[7]  This finding is consistent with the trend away from puncture of the brachial artery for invasive diagnostic and monitoring procedures. In particular, arterial injury is often at the level of the common femoral artery secondary to multiple attempts at arterial puncture in the groin.

In neonates, use of umbilical artery catheters may result in perforation or dissection of the access vessel. This is associated with a high risk of bleeding and thrombosis, which may result in aortoiliac occlusion.


The most common etiologic factor for arterial thromboembolism in children is the placement of catheters, including those used for transfemoral cardiac catheterization, umbilical artery catheters, and central or peripheral arterial lines. The mere presence of a catheter in a blood vessel is a risk factor for complications.

Iatrogenic pediatric vascular trauma is typically secondary to arteriography, cardiac catheterization, repeated venipuncture, insertion of vascular access devices, or foreign bodies (eg, fractured or displaced guide wires or catheters).[4]  Neonatal thrombosis has been described in association with radial, femoral, pulmonary, and temporal artery lines, as well as with catheters in the femoral and jugular veins. Arterial tears are a rare but potentially lethal complication of central venous catheter (CVC) placement.

Surgical procedures are also a risk factor for vascular injury. Surgery-related iatrogenic vascular injuries are largely associated with orthopedic procedures and oncologic tumor resections. These procedures often involve large dissections in areas with distorted anatomy or disrupted dissection planes and may include resection of highly vascularized lesions. Furthermore, perivascular tumors preoperatively treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both commonly exhibit thinning of the muscular layer of the vessel wall, with fibrosis of the adventitia into the surrounding tumor, which makes vessels prone to injury during subadventitial-plane dissection.

The use of partial nephrectomy or nephron-sparing surgery (NSS) has gained popularity in patients with renal tumours because the disease-free survival rates are similar between radical nephrectomy and NSS. Pseudoaneurysms, arteriovenous fistulas (AVFs), and hemorrhage due to vascular lacerations have been reported in these patients.[8, 9]  The interventional radiologist plays a key role in the management of such lesions because most can be successfully treated with endovascular techniques.

Appropriate arterial access is needed to manage severe congenital heart malformations. This access should be achieved by following strict protocols, with a limited number of punctures performed by experienced staff and only in large arteries. Residents in training should start developing their skills in larger patients who are stable, and they must be supervised at all times.

Hypotension during or immediately after a jugular or subclavian puncture should be a warning of a serious event, usually a massive hemothorax. When a vascular lesion occurs in this setting, an endovascular approach is initially preferred because it has been demonstrated to be successful in most instances. If this fails, a surgical approach is required in the shortest time possible.


Trauma is the leading cause of death in children and adolescents aged 1-14 years and has become a public health problem in many parts of the world. Traumatic vascular injury, though rare in the pediatric age group, accounts for 3.3-6.3% of admissions in large trauma centers.

Iatrogenic vascular trauma accounts for 50% of all pediatric vascular injuries.[4]  The incidence of such trauma is increasing, especially in children younger than 2 years, with a wide range (2-67%) reported in the current literature.[4]

Younger patient age, weight, comorbidities (eg, cardiac dysfunction and renal failure), and previous abdominal surgery are predisposing factors for iatrogenic vascular trauma.[4]  Infants weighing less than 10 kg are at an increased risk of vessel obstruction after cardiac catheterization.

One study demonstrated an increased incidence of thromboembolism secondary to transfemoral cardiac catheterization in children younger than 10 years as compared with older children. An Italian study of 2898 neonates admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) demonstrated a higher risk of iatrogenic vascular injuries in those with extremely low or low birth weight (2.6%) as compared with those who were older or heavier (0.3%).[10]

Procedural factors (eg, larger-caliber devices, certain catheter characteristics, repeat instrumentation, and exchanges) also increase the risk of iatrogenic vascular injury. Additionally, the different anatomic locations and different types of catheters used in the pediatric age group have specific associated complications.

In pediatric patients, iatrogenic vascular trauma may result in hemorrhage or hematoma formation, arterial dissection, thrombosis, pseudoaneurysm, or AVF formation.[4]  These iatrogenic injuries may lead to ischemic and nonischemic complications. Ischemic complications can be subdivided into acute and chronic limb ischemia.[4]

Reports of inadvertent arterial puncture following vascular access procedures are highly variable and range from 0.2% to 32% in the literature.[4]  The risk of arterial puncture is highest with IJV and subclavian vein access, followed by femoral and great saphenous vein (GSV) access.[4, 6]  This may result in hematoma formation or hemorrhage, with a reported incidence as high as 9% in central venous access procedures.[4]

Although unrecognized iatrogenic arterial injury can lead to arterial thrombosis, pseudoaneurysm, or AVF formation, AVF and pseudoaneurysm secondary to iatrogenic vascular trauma are rare in children, with reported incidences of 0.3% and 0.01%, respectively.[4] ​ In contrast, arterial thrombosis, particularly involving the femoral artery, is a more commonly reported complication, with an incidence of 2-3%.[4]

The incidence of thrombosis after the use of umbilical artery catheters is unknown. However, several reviews have indicated a major complication rate of 17-20%. In one study of 4000 infants with an umbilical artery catheter, 41 developed a major thromboembolic complication, an incidence of less than 1%.[11]  The position of the umbilical artery catheters may affect the frequency of thromboembolic events. The tips of the catheters may be positioned high (ie, at the level of T5-10) or low (ie, at the level of L3-5). The optimal position for minimizing thromboembolism is uncertain.

Other complications of umbilical artery catheters include vasospasm, aortic thrombosis, partial or complete iliac artery thrombosis, and embolism to peripheral and visceral tissues.

Venous thrombosis is a common complication of vascular access in the pediatric population, with a reported incidence of up to 60%.[4, 5]  In particular, central venous access devices (CVADs) have been identified as the biggest risk factor for this complication in children. Specific risk factors for thrombosis include catheter-to-vein ratio, catheter tip location, and catheter size.[6]  Current clinical practice guidelines recommend a catheter-to-vein ratio of < 0.5 in children and < 0.33 in neonates.[5]

Femoral insertion sites have also been associated with an increased incidence of thrombotic complications as compared with subclavian vein access.[5]  Furthermore, the formation of a fibrin sheath after insertion of a CVAD is thought to contribute to the risk of catheter-related thombosis.[4]

CVADs are associated with an overall complication rate of 42-80%, including mechanical (5-19%), infectious (5-26%), or thrombotic events (2-26%). Reported complications include infection, malpositioning, phlebitis, thrombosis, migration, pericardial or pleural effusion, chylothorax, peritoneal or retroperitoneal extravasation, cardiac arrhythmias, endocarditis, and pulmonary embolism.[4, 5]  Mechanical complications include arterial puncture or laceration, pneumothorax, hemothorax or mediastinal hematoma, misplacement of the catheter tip, puncture-site hematoma or bleeding, and air embolism. About 0.5-1 mL/kg of air is sufficient to produce an air embolism in a child.

Risk factors for catheter-related mechanical complications included the following:

  • Time needed for catheter insertion (number of needle passes) - More than three attempts were associated with a sixfold increase in the risk of a mechanical complication
  • Insertion during the night (operator fatigue or inexperience) - Surgeons who placed more than 50 CVCs had a 50% decrease in the rate of complications
  • Center effect

To reduce the risk of complicatons, clinical practice guidelines on vascular access in pediatric patients have recommended that all insertions be done under ultrasonographic (US) guidance.[5]  This practice has decreased the number of attempts needed to cannulate the vein, as well as the incidence of iatrogenic injury. Placement of CVCs under fluoroscopic guidance allows for correct placement of the catheter and vein dilatation under direct vision.

Whereas percutaneous vascular access is favored in the pediatric population, iatrogenic vascular trauma may also result from complications involving wire retention or catheter fracture and migration.[4, 6]  In most cases, vascular access is obtained means of the Seldinger technique; therefore, the risk of guide-wire retention is a common complication, occurring in as many as 11% of patients.[5]  Fracture of catheters, though rare, may occur during device insertion or removal.[4, 6]  With the evolution of endovascular techniques, early recognition of these complications is important after percutaneous interventions such as cardiac catheterization.

In children, cardiac catheterization has a complication rate of 4-8%. Complications include trapping of the angioplasty balloon, vascular tears, damage of the left pulmonary artery, mitral valve injury, coil migration, embolization, bleeding, and vascular laceration or perforation. A study involving 1674 paediatric cardiac catheterizations performed with a femoral approach demonstrated that surgical repair of iatrogenic femoral injuries occurred in 2% of patients, with an overall morbidity of 12% and mortality of 3%.[12]  With advances in interventional catheterization, the use of large catheters and sheaths has increased the risk even further.


Serious complications, such as gangrene or limb loss, are rare. After arterial injury, fewer than one in 10 patients eventually progress to surgical revascularization; most symptoms resolve with conservative management.[4]  However, delayed revascularization has been associated with poorer functional outcomes and limb-length discrepancy.[4]  Moreover, children younger than 2 years have an increased risk of morbidity and mortality after iatrogenic vascular injury.[4]



History and Physical Examination

Pediatric iatrogenic vascular trauma may present acutely or may manifest late after the original vascular procedure or trauma.

Usually, signs and symptoms of vascular injuries are immediately apparent. Patients with limb ischemia present with the classic signs of distal hypoperfusion or cold skin plus the "five Ps": pulselessness, pallor, paralysis, paresthesia, and pain. Pulses can be difficult to palpate in infants and small children. However, Doppler technology can be used to confirm flow and compare pressures with those in the contralateral uninvolved limb.

Signs may be transient or may progress quickly to gangrene. Vascular spasm in children is inversely proportional to the size and age of the patient. Simple spasm usually subsides spontaneously within 3 hours. However, lesions suggestive of vascular compromise should not be attributed to spasm. (See the images below.)

Newborn baby boy with right femoral artery lesion Newborn baby boy with right femoral artery lesion during venous cutdown. Artery was surgically repaired. He postoperatively developed severe vasospasm and partial thrombosis, managed with thrombolytics. He had adequate Doppler signal and eventually recovered.
Right-hand gangrene and necrosis secondary to use Right-hand gangrene and necrosis secondary to use of brachial artery catheter in very-low-birth-weight baby girl.
Distal right-foot ischemia with fingertip gangrene Distal right-foot ischemia with fingertip gangrene in newborn baby girl with central venous catheter in right femoral vein, which, after multiple cannulation attempts with accidental arterial catheter placement, developed thrombus that migrated distally and produced ischemia and necrosis.
Left-hand fingertip necrosis due to arterial line Left-hand fingertip necrosis due to arterial line in brachial artery.

Assessment of pulses after a procedure is crucial in the early recognition of vascular injury.[4]  It is important to note, however, that the presence of pulses distal to the lesion does not completely rule out a vascular injury, because as many as 25% of patients may have distal pulses even in the presence of a vascular insult. If a change in vascular observation of the limb is identified after a procedure, the clinician should consider whether the poor perfusion state is due to arterial injury, vasospasm, or hypoperfusion from shock.

Measurement of the ankle-brachial index (ABI) can also be used to assess arterial perfusion. Whereas an ABI of 1 is considered normal in adults and older children, the normal value for the ABI in children younger than 2 years is 0.88.[2]

A delayed presentation is more likely in patients with certain vascular injuries, including arteriovenous fistulas (AVFs), mycotic aneurysms, pseudoaneurysms, renal vascular occlusion with renovascular hypertension, intermittent claudication, or growth retardation of the affected extremity. Signs and symptoms may be subtle. Particular attention must be paid to poor capillary refill, coolness, diminished pulses, bruits, thrills, blanching, bluish discoloration, lack of movement, and mottling.

Not all patients with thrombosis develop clinical symptoms. On occasion, the vessel is only partially blocked, and collateral blood flow is adequate. This occurs with thromboses associated with umbilical artery catheters. In a series of 4000 patients, only 1% of patients developed clinical symptoms of thrombosis.[11]  Patients with acute aortic thrombosis secondary to umbilical artery catheters can present with hypertension or congestive heart failure.



Imaging Studies

The diagnosis of iatrogenic vascular trauma must be made promptly so that appropriate treatment can be initiated. Most often, the diagnosis of vascular injury is made clinically through recognition of hard signs of vascular injury (eg, bleeding or expanding hematoma). In the absence of these signs, however, imaging studies are useful for making the diagnosis.

After a change in postprocedural neurovascular observations, arterial duplex ultrasonography (US) should be performed.[4]  At present, routine postprocedural US has not been shown to be beneficial.[4]  Duplex US is sensitive in diagnosing vascular occlusions, arteriovenous fistulas (AVFs), and pseudoaneurysms.[4]  It is the preferred imaging modality in the pediatric population, in that it is noninvasive and does not involve exposure to ionizing radiation.

In the diagnosis of AVFs, computed tomography (CT) angiography (CTA) or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) may be used to achieve better definition of the anatomy.[4]  Although CTA provides excellent imaging resolution, its risks and benefits must be carefully considered, given the known risk of radiation exposure in children.

Digital subtraction arteriography (DSA) and high-resolution US are newer techniques that may further facilitate the diagnosis and management of these injuries.



Approach Considerations

If a hematoma or bleeding develops, manual pressure should be applied to the site, and any coagulopathy should be corrected.[4]  In the event of a suspected iatrogenic injury, early recognition and catheter removal are essential.

Hard signs of arterial injury (hemorrhage or expanding hematoma) are indications for surgical exploration. Any child with a threatened or nonviable limb should be taken to the operating room (OR) for definitive repair. Additionally, patients with limb ischemia who fail to improve on anticoagulation should undergo surgical intervention.[4]  On the other hand, late repair may be undertaken before the adolescent growth spurt occurs in some children with limb-length discrepancies.

Three approach strategies have been described on the basis of the type of injury, as follows:

  • Type I - Life-threatening or limb-threatening injury (hard signs); patients with these injuries require immediate surgical exploration
  • Type II - Injuries that do not immediately jeopardize limb integrity and are not life-threatening, but in which a vascular injury is evident; Doppler ultrasonography (US) or preoperative angiography, if available, is the best first step; otherwise, angiography can be performed during surgery
  • Type III - Injuries without hard signs in which, because of their location and mechanism of injury, vascular trauma should be suspected; these are best approached with angiography or computed tomography (CT) angiography (CTA)

Acute aortic thrombosis is another absolute indication for surgery. Nonoperative therapy is associated with a 100% mortality, and several reports describe success with surgery for aortic thrombosis.

Most neonates and children in the intensive care setting are poor surgical candidates because of their medical illnesses. In such cases, the risks of surgery must be weighed against the risk of limb loss and limb-growth discrepancy.

Medical Therapy

Rapid recognition of the injury and definitive intervention are essential for limb salvage.

The principles of managing peripheral vascular injuries in children are different from those in adults. Severe arterial spasm and the long-term effects of diminished blood flow on limb growth must be considered. When vasospasm is suspected rather than thrombosis, catheter removal is imperative because this alone may reverse the process. Papaverine administration is often used to reverse or minimize vasospasm.

The arterial spasm compromises repair of an arterial injury. In children, minor blood loss worsens the vasospasm, promoting early thrombosis. Adequate preoperative intravascular resuscitation is imperative. At times, this may clarify a doubtful examination finding when the issue is vasoconstriction.

If surgery is not performed, it is important to monitor limb length over time and repair the artery if a significant discrepancy develops. This monitoring and repair should be performed before the adolescent growth spurt occurs.

The first maneuver in treating vascular injury is removing the inciting factor. The catheter should be promptly removed when signs of ischemia develop.[4]  A new catheter should not be replaced at the same site, even if the signs revert. If thrombosis is suspected, anticoagulation therapy should be initiated unless contraindicated.[4]

Infants who lose their lower-extremity pulses after transfemoral catheterization often regain the pulses after 1-2 days. Close neurovascular monitoring should be performed for the first 48 hours following commencement of therapeutic anticoagulation.[4] ​ Collateralization is more rapid in infants than in adults; accordingly, anticoagulation and observation are preferred in this type of injury when the extremity has preserved sensibility and movement and when a Doppler signal is audible.

If the injury is of venous origin, elevating the extremity is appropriate to accelerate the resolution of edema. If the injury in question is arterial, lowering the extremity and keeping it warm produces vasodilation and improves circulation. The risks of surgery must be weighed against the risk of limb loss or limb-growth discrepancy.

In cases of chronic ischemia (>30 d), arteriography is indicated. Patients clinically present with claudication and extremity growth retardation, which is considered clinically significant when the discrepancy between the extremities reaches 2-3 cm. Even if the pulses do not recover, if the ankle-brachial index (ABI) is adequate and if the patient is asymptomatic, no surgical intervention is required.

Similarly, thrombosis associated with umbilical artery catheters should be managed with anticoagulation and catheter removal.[13]

Immediate heparinization with 15-25 U/kg/hr intravenously (IV) after an IV bolus of 50 U/kg reduces the propagation of thrombus. Heparin should be continued following repair of small arteries or when vasospasm is still present. Long-term antiplatelet therapy is warranted after arterial reconstructions to decrease thrombosis at repair sites.[2]

In a study in which 76 children were monitored for 32 months, a set of guidelines was established for initial medical management of vascular injuries.[7]  Any patient who did not regain femoral pulses when the catheter was removed immediately received heparin and was observed for 6 hours. If femoral pulses were still absent after 6 hours, surgery was performed. If femoral pulses returned but distal pulses were absent, heparin therapy was continued. The literature suggests that the duration of observation prior to surgical revascularization varies greatly between health services, ranging from 3 to 48 hours.[4]

Thrombolytic agents have been used with success in neonates. In the previously mentioned study, two neonates who were not candidates for surgery received heparin and thrombolytic therapy for iliac artery thromboses secondary to umbilical artery catheters. In both cases, normal circulation was present at age 13 months and 18 months without a limb-length discrepancy.

Currently, a recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (rtPA; eg, alteplase) is the agent of choice (0.25-1.5 mg/hr). Fibrinogen levels are measured to ensure lysis of the thrombus, with discontinuance of infusion once systemic fibrinogen levels fall, indicating complete clot dissolution. Heparin is used simultaneously and continued after thrombolysis in order to avoid clot extension. Through the same catheter, angiography is performed to identify the need for further treatment, angioplasty, thrombectomy, or reconstruction.[2]

In children undergoing cardiac catheterization, prophylactic anticoagulation with heparin at 100-150 U/kg reduced the incidence of thromboembolism from 40% to 8%. A small randomized trial demonstrated that heparin 50 U/kg tended to be as effective as 100 U/kg when administered immediately after arterial puncture.[14]

For arterial endovascular procedures, prophylactic anticoagulation with aspirin does not significantly reduce the incidence of arterial thromboembolism. However, for the ambulatory setting, children can be given low-dose aspirin (4-5 mg/kg/day) as an antiplatelet aggregator.

Drugs that have been proposed for use in pediatric vascular injury include unfractionated heparin (UFH) sodium, pentoxifylline, heparin calcium, and alteplase.

Dosing for UFH sodium is as follows:

  • Infants younger than 1 year - Initial bolus of 50-75 U/kg IV infused over 10 minutes; maintenance dosage of 28 U/kg/hr (range, 15-35 U/kg/hr) adjusted as needed by 2-4 U/kg/hr every 4-8 hours
  • Infants aged 1 year or older - Initial bolus of 75 U/kg IV infused over 10 minutes; maintenance dose of 20 U/kg/hr (range, 15-25 U/kg/hr) adjusted by 2-5 U/kg/hr as needed every 4-8 hours

Dosing for pentoxifylline (the IV form is investigational in the United States) is as follows:

  • 20 mg/kg/day IV divided every 8 hours, at a rate not to exceed 1200 μg/kg/hr

Dosing for heparin calcium (no longer marketed in the United States) is as follows:

  • 1-1.5 mg/kg/day

Dosing for alteplase (rtPA) is as follows:

  • Infants younger than 3 months - 0.03-0.06 mg/kg/hr IV
  • Infants aged 3 months or older - 0.06-2 mg/kg/hr IV

Although thrombolytic therapy has been successfully used in pediatric injuries, there remains a lack of evidence on the safety profile of such therapy in children.[4]  Descriptive studies have helped explain clinical thrombotic disease in this group of patients; however, supporting data from controlled randomized trials are lacking, and thus, treatment must be individualized in each case.

Approximately 8-39% of pediatric patients who weigh less than 14 kg have absent distal pulses after catheterization; medical treatment is the first treatment approach.

Surgical and Endovascular Therapy

Current treatment strategies for pediatric vascular injuries resemble the strategies for treating vascular trauma in adults, as follows:

  • Early definitive arterial reconstruction
  • Repair of venous injuries
  • Use of temporal vascular shunts
  • Systemic and regional heparin administration
  • Balloon thrombectomy
  • Liberal use of fasciotomies

Pediatric-specific issues include the following:

  • Treatment and surveillance of associated vasospasm
  • Allowance for subsequent vascular growth
  • Long-term follow-up for patency, aneurysmal degeneration, and limb-length discrepancy

Historically, early exploration for vascular injuries in children was not strongly advocated, except in cases of exsanguinating hemorrhage. It is now recognized, however, that this expectant approach has yielded poor results, including tissue loss, loss of function and limb-length discrepancy.[4]  Unnecessary interventions were a concern in the setting of vasospasm, as were poor postoperative results in children younger than 2 years. Nevertheless, the lifelong consequences of a deferred operation outweigh the risk of a negative exploration. Children have a short ischemic threshold.

Depending on the location and type of injury, surgical intervention for iatrogenic vascular trauma may include primary repair, patch angioplasty, thrombectomy, or lower-limb bypass surgery.[4]  Although there has been a significant shift towards endovascular treatment of adult vascular injuries, the role of endovascular revascularization in the pediatric population remains to be defined.[4]  Other emerging minimally invasive options include percutaneous or catheter-directed thrombectomy, which has shown some potential utility in the treatment of arterial thromboses.[4]

The goal of surgery is to restore vascular supply to ischemic territories. Surgical repair can be accomplished by means of thromboembolectomy, patch angioplasty, primary anastomosis, or bypass grafting. When the injury exceeds 30% of the circumference of the vessel, surgical repair should be performed with means other than simple closure, such as vein patching or grafting. Minimal injury or clean transection can be primarily reconstructed.

The best grafting material in children is autologous vein. The great saphenous vein (GSV) is commonly used. The ipsilateral GSV is to be avoided, so as not to compromise the venous outflow of an injured extremity.

Synthetic conduits have a higher incidence of infection and lower patency rates, and in small children, they do not account for the required growth.

Vein repair is important to alleviate limb edema, improving the patency of arterial repairs and enhancing overall limb function.[2]

In the rare circumstance of acute aortic thrombosis, aortic thrombectomy is the procedure of choice when conditions are deteriorating (eg, worsening congestive heart failure and hypertension, intestinal ischemia, renal failure, lower-extremity ischemia, or multiorgan failure). A transabdominal approach allows for a bowel resection, if needed.

Surgical management of iatrogenic vascular trauma in this population represents a technical challenge; the small vessel size and arterial spasms can cause difficulties. In experienced hands, this can be a limb-salvage strategy with good long-term outcomes. Vein patch angioplasty is a safe option, especially in femoral artery injuries, with excellent patency rates.[14]

Vasospasm significantly complicates treatment. As much as 26% of the incidence of peripheral arterial vasospasm is found at surgical exploration, but ultimately, resolution without vascular reconstruction is possible.

One report described a transverse incision at the aorta above the iliac bifurcation. A 3-French balloon catheter may then be used to extract the clot from the iliac arteries. A 2-French balloon catheter may be used for the femoral arteries. To gain control of the renal orifices, longitudinal aortomy may be necessary. Interrupted sutures are used to close the incision; they allow for subsequent arterial growth. In particular, 7-0 polypropylene sutures have been used to close the aorta.

Thromboembolectomy alone suffices in 43% of patients, and 14% of patients require surgical repair with arteriography with or without resection of an arterial segment. About 71% of patients recover their pulses, whereas 57% have audible Doppler signals and never regain their pulses. Therefore, clinical follow-up involves periodic measurement of the ABI.

The most common adverse events after surgical repair are surgical wound infection and arterial rethrombosis. Surgical wound infection is reported to occur in 3-22% of cases and depends on several factors, including age, associated soft-tissue trauma, albumin level, and time elapsed before repair. Arterial rethrombosis is reported to occur in 14% of patients.

Surgical principles to bear in mind in repairing a vascular injury include the following:

  • Widely prepare the surgical field, including both legs, in anticipation of the need to use venous grafts
  • Obtain good exposure and vascular dissection to achieve proximal and distal control of the injured vessel
  • After extracting the clots, use heparin in the segments to be anastomosed
  • Identify and isolate the collateral vessels, maintaining their integrity
  • Resect nonviable tissue; do not perform anastomoses when the intimal layer is detached; separate nonabsorbable sutures are appropriate in allowing for the child’s growth
  • The triangulation technique, as described by Carrel, facilitates the anastomosis in small vessels; interrupted nonabsorbable sutures seem optimal, in that they accommodate vascular growth, whereas continuous absorbable sutures, though sometimes used, appear to be more thrombogenic; spatulation of the vascular ends to anastomose may protect against narrowing
  • Cover the anastomosis with healthy soft tissue
  • Liberally use fasciotomy when indicated; for repairs performed longer than 6 hours after the injury, consider associated venous injury and the possibility of massive edema with compartment syndrome; doing so improves the quality of limb salvage
  • Always try to repair the vein, if it is injured
  • Perform surgical arteriography at the end of the procedure

Use of temporary vascular shunts is quite useful for proximal-extremity arterial trauma, remaining patent in 85-95% of cases, and may be useful in limb salvage for brachial or femoral injuries. The shunts reduce overall ischemia time and serve as a bridge to definitive repair. Reduction in ischemia time may reduce the rates of compartment syndrome and nerve injury and improve the quality of limb salvage, preventing late amputation due to poor limb function.

On the other hand, distal shunts have poor patency and do not improve limb salvage.[2]  (See the image below.)

Neonate boy with high supracondylar left lower lim Neonate boy with high supracondylar left lower limb amputation secondary to thrombosis of femoral artery with arterial line in place. Patient came to our department with signs of irreversible ischemia and extensive necrosis.

For carotid artery trauma, ligation of the distal internal carotid artery may be required when the injury is too distal for repair. Pseudoaneurysms can be treated with percutaneous embolization if they have a small neck. Zone III pseudoaneurysms can be treated with percutaneous graft placement if the lesion extends to the skull base.

Thoracic outlet vascular injury (eg, of the proximal subclavian arteries or innominate artery) may require a median sternotomy. Distal subclavian arterial injuries may require supraclavicular incisions. Trap-door or other combined incisions may be needed for more extensive injuries.

In children, as many as 89% of pseudoaneurysms have been shown to resolve following minimally invasive treatment (eg, ultrasound-guided compression or thrombin injection).[4]  Open repair or arterial resection of the pseudoaneurysm may be indicated in large pseudoaneurysms with a wide neck or pseudoaneurysms that fail to thrombose following compression or thrombin injection.[4]

Similarly, as many as one third of arteriovenous fistulas (AVFs) spontaneously resolve within 12 months.[4]  However, in patients who are symptomatic, surgical options including ligation, resection or oversewing of the fistula should be considered to repair the pathologic communication between vessels. At present, there remains a lack of data on the use of endovascular stents or embolization in pediatric AVF repair.

With the advent of improved suture and graft material and the development of microsurgical techniques, more arterial injuries are addressed in the OR now than before. With atraumatic vascular clamps and needles, 9-0 to 11-0 nylon sutures are used for vascular anastomoses. Topical application of 2% lidocaine or papaverine is used to control vasospasm. Prophylactic antibiotics are used preoperatively.

Reversed saphenous vein grafts are preferentially used for reconstructions of femoral arteries. The dorsal veins of the foot, which have a thick muscularis, can also be used as grafts. Debriding the injured arterial segment completely is crucial in preventing subsequent thrombosis.

Postoperative Care

In the postoperative period, closely monitor distal neurovascular compromise of the extremity, checking the patient's pulse, color, temperature, and capillary refill. Do not use compressive bandages, and look for edema. Keep the extremity mildly flexed, warm, and initiate movement or ambulation as soon as possible.


Gangrene and loss of a limb secondary to arterial insufficiency in young children are rare. However, limb shortening and claudication are frequent complications of femoral artery thromboembolisms in children.[15]  Approximately 10% of children have symptoms or limb-length discrepancy when monitored over the long term.

Many iatrogenic vascular injuries are due to lack of knowledge of the anatomy, physiology, surgical technique, and management strategies relevant to the use of the various vascular devices. Possible complications range from a simple hematoma to limb-threatening ischemia to patient death secondary to hemorrhage. To prevent and minimize such complications, therefore, clinicians must always stay well informed, continue to review these topics, and maintain contact with medical personnel with good training and experience in managing these cases.

A multidisciplinary team approach is fundamental for obtaining good results. This team should ideally include a pediatric surgeon with experience in vascular procedures, a pediatric anesthetist well versed in the management of critically ill children, a pediatric interventional radiologist, and a well-trained support team.

Long-Term Monitoring

Early postoperative surveillance detects technical problems leading to graft failure. Long-term follow-up identifies aneurysmal dilatation, anastomotic stenosis, late bypass failure, or limb-growth discrepancy.

Invasive procedures are rarely needed. The use of clinical assessment, ABI, and duplex ultrasonography (US) at regular intervals is usually sufficient and reliable.

Short-term and long-term outcomes of neonatal vascular injuries should be further evaluated; these injuries have a high associated cost for disability and quality of life.

A few investigators have used objective methods to document long-term graft patency . In one report, a child was monitored by using pulse-volume recordings for graft patency and low-dose digital radiography for limb growth. The child had a 1-cm limb discrepancy in the revascularized leg after 6 years. Both Doppler studies and pulse-volume recordings demonstrated severe stenosis of the graft despite initial successful revascularization.