Radiographic detection of esophageal malpositioning of endotracheal tubes

G. M. Smith, J. C. Reed, R. H. Choplin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations


Insertion of an endotracheal tube into the esophagus is an infrequent but life-threatening complication of endotracheal intubation. This complication is difficult to detect on standard, anteroposterior, portable chest radiographs because the incorrectly placed endotracheal tube is usually projected over the tracheal air column. To evaluate the use of chest radiographs to detect the malposition, we performed a two-part study. First, we analyzed the findings on chest radiographs in six patients in whom an endotracheal tube had been inserted in the esophagus, and then we analyzed 328 portable chest radiographs of patients with both endotracheal and nasogastric tubes to determine the best radiographic position for identifying the exact location of an endotracheal tube. The findings in the six patients included projection of the tube lateral to the trachea (five patients), gastric distension (four patients), esophageal air (two patients), and deviation of the trachea by the balloon cuff (one patient). The study of the portable chest radiographs showed that the endotracheal tube position could be identified correctly in 81 (92%) of 88 of the films made with the patient in a 25° right posterior oblique position. The trachea and esophagus were superimposed in 25 (96%) of 26 of the radiographs made with the head turned to the left and with the patient in a 25° left posterior oblique projection. Our results show that by positioning patients for chest radiographs in a 25° right posterior oblique position, the location of endotracheal tubes can be identified accurately.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-26
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Journal of Roentgenology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging

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