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Anesthesia

Air bubbles in chest area

01/15/2008

Question:

I had a laparoscopy procedure done for lymph node biopsy. Was put under general anesthesia. While lying in bed that night I could feel air-filled blisters on my chest and sides. Is this normal?

Answer:

Believe it or not, the answer is yes. The "air-filled blisters" are a condition called subcutaneous emphysema. They give a kind of Rice Krispies sensation, and are the result of gas leaking from your abdominal cavity into your tissues. Subcutaneous emphysema is generally harmless but it can be quite extensive and therefore alarming. Especially if you aren't warned about it beforehand.

The gas is not air, in fact, but carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the preferred gas for laparoscopy, during which your belly is inflated with the gas in order to allow the organs to be seen, and to create room for the surgical instruments to be used. Over a day or two the carbon dioxide is absorbed into the bloodstream and eliminated through normal breathing and metabolic function.

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Response by:

Gareth S Kantor, MD Gareth S Kantor, MD
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University