UMEM Educational Pearls

Complications of Resuscitation

  • CPR, defibrillation, endotracheal intubation, and cannulation of peripheral and central veins are common procedures during resuscitation of cardiac arrest patients
  • Although not obvious immediately, complications from these procedures can develop and manifest several hours after successful return of spontaneous circulation
  • Not surprisingly, the most common complications are rib and sternal fractures
  • Additional complications to recall include:
    • tracheal mucosal lesions (almost 20%)
    • retropharyngeal bleeding
    • liver/spleen injuries
    • rhabdomyolysis (post-defibrillation)
    • air embolism (central venous access)
    • gastric rupture (very rare; due to continuous air insufflation into the stomach)


Buschmann CT, Tsokos M. Frequent and rare complications of resuscitation attempts. Intensive Care Med 2009;35:397-404.