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13 November 2020: Articles  Saudi Arabia

Acute Respiratory Distress and Hyperchloremic Metabolic Acidosis as a Result of Massive Irrigation Fluid Extravasation After Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery: A Case Report and Recommendations for Preventable Complications

Unusual or unexpected effect of treatment

Raid A. Abutalib1BCDEF, Asim J. Alamri1BCDEF*, Samir A. Aqel1EF, Ibrahim M. Alhumaidi1AC, Ibrahim A. Almohini2AB

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.926357

Am J Case Rep 2020; 21:e926357



BACKGROUND: Airway compromise caused by massive fluid extravasation in association with arthroscopic shoulder surgery is rare. However, it is even more rare to occur as a result of pleural effusion. We present this case to increase the awareness of this rare complication and show how to minimize the likelihood of this uncommon incident.

CASE REPORT: We describe a case of a 68-year-old woman who underwent elective shoulder arthroscopy for rotator cuff repair. She had immediate postoperative shortness of breath and was found to have bilateral pulmonary edema and pleural effusion accompanied by metabolic acidosis. She was managed conservatively in the intensive care unit and then transferred to the general ward after clinical and radiological improvement the next day.

CONCLUSIONS: This uncommon complication was self-limiting, and the patient recovered uneventfully. High clinical suspicion is required to address this event so proper rapid management can be made.

Keywords: Airway Obstruction, Arthroscopy, Pleural Effusion, Pulmonary Edema, rotator cuff, Shoulder Joint, Acidosis, Aged, respiratory distress syndrome, Rotator Cuff Injuries, Shoulder, Treatment Outcome


A shoulder arthroscopic procedure is a well-tolerated intervention that offers minimal invasive technique with less soft-tissue trauma compared with the open approach [1]. However, a small amount of fluid extravasation from the joint space into the deltoid muscles occurs commonly during shoulder arthros-copy, which is inevitable and is often self-limiting [2]. Only a significant amount of fluid extravasation reported in some cases can lead to life-threatening respiratory tract obstruction. Nevertheless, all incidents markedly improved within 24 h after the arthroscopic procedure [1,3–8]. Other respiratory complications, including pneumothorax, pulmonary edema, pleural effusion, and mediastinal effusion with airway compression, were also reported [9–11]. Besides previous complications, airway compromise caused by massive fluid extravasation is rarely associated with shoulder surgery, and also rarely occurs from pleural effusion [12]. In this report, we describe a woman who underwent elective shoulder arthroscopy and had immediate postoperative breathing difficulty and pleural effusion. This complication is addressed as a life-threatening airway compromise that might occur if not managed properly [12]. The unique presentation in this case that was not observed in previous reports is the development of hyperchloremic metabolic acidosis as a result of systemic absorption of extravasated irrigation fluid.

Case Report

A 68-year-old woman presented to the orthopedic clinic complaining of right shoulder pain for 6 months that was associated with limitation of movement, which affects her activities of daily living. The pain was aggravated by lying on the right shoulder, reaching, and lifting with right arm. It is worth noting that there was no history of trauma, fever, or multiple joint pain. She had a positive history of diabetes and hypertension. Upon physical examination, her height was 150 cm, weight 60 kg with a body mass index (BMI) of 26.7 kg/m2. A diffuse tenderness was noted throughout the right shoulder, and the active range of motion was limited because of pain, especially on abduction and internal rotation. Furthermore, Hawkin sign, Jobe test, Neer sign, and lift-off test were all positive. The rest of the examination was unremarkable. Radiography of the right shoulder revealed mild acromioclavicular joint degenerative changes. Magnetic resonance imaging showed massive rotator cuff tear with subscapularis and biceps tendons subluxation (Figure 1). The patient was scheduled to undergo an elective right shoulder arthroscopy for rotator cuff repair. She was referred to the preoperative anesthesia clinic. Physical assessment showed no abnormalities and laboratory investigations were all within the normal range. Electrocardiogram (ECG) and chest radiograph had normal results (Figure 2). The patient was labeled as American Society of Anesthesiologists class 2. The procedure was performed under general anesthesia and interscalene block. The patient was placed in a beach-chair position. The posterior portal was placed about 2 cm inferior and 1 cm medial to the posterolateral corner of the acromion. The anterior portal was placed lateral to the coracoid process and anterior to the acromioclavicular joint, and the lateral portal was inserted 1 cm distal to the lateral edge of the acromion. The amount of irrigation fluid was 30 L of normal saline; 0.33 mg of epinephrine was added to each liter. The shoulder joint space was then inflated by a Dyonics 25 fluid management system pressure pump infusion, with pressure ranging between 50 and 60 mmHg and flow rate ranging from 0.8 to 2.5 L/min. Exploration was made, and tears of subscapularis and supraspinatus were identified along with subluxation of the biceps tendon. Repair of subscapularis and supraspinatus using suture anchors, tenotomy of the biceps tendon, coracoplasty, and acromioplasty were all carried out. There were no complications during the procedure and the patient was stable intraoperatively. The duration of surgery was around 3 h. The patient was extubated as there was no airway compromise, and then shifted to the recovery room. Thirty minutes later, in the recovery room, the patient developed breathing difficulty, and her oxygen saturation dropped to 90% with a 5 L/min face mask. The respiratory rate was 30 breaths/min; the remaining vitals were within normal limits. On examination, the patient had marked swelling across the entire chest wall, including the right breast extending to the right neck and shoulder. She had dull percussion sounds over the right side of her chest wall. A decrease in air entry on the right side was noticed on auscultation as well. The chest radiograph showed an obliterated right costophrenic angle by homogenous opacity with suspicion of underlying basal lung consolidative collapse accompanied by bilateral hilar congestion more on the left side (Figure 3). The arterial blood gases (ABG) revealed pH 7.24 (reference range 7.35–7.45); pCO2 40.2 mmHg (reference range 35–45 mmHg); pO2 62.2 mmHg (reference range 75–100 mmHg); HCO3 17.2 mmol/L (reference range 22–26 mmol/L); base excess −9.5 mmol/L (reference range −2.00 to +2.00 mmol/L); and lactic acid 3.19 mmol/L (reference range 0.5–2 mmol/L). Initial laboratory evaluation revealed the following values: sodium 142 mmol/L (reference range 136–145 mmol/L); potassium 4.3 mmol/L (reference range 3.5–5.1 mmol/L); chloride 116 mmol/L (reference range 101–111 mmol/L); and adjusted calcium 1.87 mmol/L (reference range 2.20 to 2.50). These results indicated a nonanion gap metabolic acidosis. Other values were: glomerular filtration rate of 113 (reference range 90–120 mL min−1 [1.73 m2]−1); blood urea nitrogen 3.4 mg/dL (reference range 5–20 mg/dL); creatinine 50 μmol/L (reference range 74–107 μmol/L); creatine kinase 226 U/L (reference range 22–198 U/L); lactate dehydrogenase 302 (reference range 140–280 U/L); troponin I level <0.010 ng/mL (reference range 0 to 0.4 ng/mL); and brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) 42 pg/mL (reference range <100 pg/ mL). Complete blood count and liver function had unremarkable results. The patient was initially given a bolus dose of 40 mg of furosemide intravenously. After the stabilization of her respiratory condition and because she was hemodynamically stable, the patient was transferred to the intensive care unit for supportive management, further investigations, and observation. In the intensive care unit, she continued to be closely monitored with a simple face mask at 2–3 L/min of oxygen. Echocardiogram showed normal left ventricular size and function, normal valves, and small pericardial effusion with 55% of left ventricular ejection fraction (reference range 50–70%). The patient’s symptoms continued to improve during the first 6 h and she was completely asymptomatic after 24 h. On the second postoperative day, the patient was vitally stable with no respiratory distress. Her oxygen saturation was 97% on room air. The follow-up chest radiograph showed improvement of pleural effusion and resolution of pulmonary edema. The patient shifted to the orthopedic ward and stayed there for 3 days. On the third postoperative day, the chest radiograph was repeated, which showed a complete resolution of pleural effusion (Figure 4). Finally, she was discharged home on the fourth postoperative day in a stable condition. At 2-week follow-up, in the clinic, the patient’s chest radiograph showed a complete resolution of all radiological findings (Figure 5).



Early recognition of post-shoulder arthroscopy fluid extravasation and pleural effusion can prevent lethal airway compromise. After surgical drape removal, evaluating the soft tissues surrounding the shoulder, including the face, neck, and chest, helps to detect swelling. An immediate chest radio-graph is highly recommended if severe soft-tissue swelling is noticed in the chest wall associated with decrease of oxygen saturation to rule out pleural effusion and serious respiratory conditions. Also, minimizing the operating time, which requires more experience and frequent participation in shoulder cadaveric courses and training the nurse staff and assistant doctors, and using the least possible amount of irrigation fluid with minimal pump pressure has better safety and low operation-related complications. Utilization of relatively hypotensive anesthesia also helps in reduction of bleeding; hence, pump pressure can be decreased.


Arthroscopic shoulder procedures seem to be harmless and safe techniques. Nevertheless, they can carry a possible risk of respiratory complications and acid-base abnormalities, which may lead to lethal outcomes when not appropriately anticipated. Our case highlights the importance of anticipation of such complications while they can be prevented by performing proper fluid measurements and mastering skills in surgical practice.


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American Journal of Case Reports eISSN: 1941-5923
American Journal of Case Reports eISSN: 1941-5923