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Arterial blood gas (ABG) sampling is an essential component of the care of many Emergency Department patients. It provides key information regarding a patient's oxygenation and acid-base status. Arterial cannulation allows for continuous and accurate blood pressure monitoring and frequent blood gas sampling in the care of the critically ill patient.

Knowledge of the arterial anatomy is a key factor in the success of arterial puncture and cannulation. It is important to recognize that nerves and veins are located in close proximity to the desired arteries in order to avoid complications. The anatomy and positioning for radial, brachial, femoral, and dorsalis pedis artery access is described below.

Radial Artery

The radial artery is the preferred site for arterial puncture and cannulation. One reason is the comparative ease of identifying the anatomical location of this artery. A second reason is the collateral nature of the arterial blood supply to the hand provided by the radial and ulnar arteries. The ulnar artery is not often used due to its smaller size. Terminal branches of these two arteries meet in the palm of the hand to form the deep and superficial palmar arterial arches (Figure 57-1).

Figure 57-1.

Anatomical location of the radial and ulnar arteries. Collateral circulation is provided by the superficial and deep palmar arches.

The radial artery can be found just medial and proximal to the radial styloid process on the ventrolateral wrist (Figure 57-1). Dorsiflexing the wrist approximately 60° can aid in palpating the arterial pulse. Another notable landmark is the flexor carpi radialis tendon that runs immediately medial to the radial artery. The recommended point of needle or catheter insertion is at the proximal flexor crease of the wrist and directly above the radial artery pulse.

An Allen test should be performed to assess the adequacy of the collateral circulation to the hand prior to radial artery puncture or cannulation (Figure 57-2).1,2 Ask the patient to repeatedly close their hand tightly into a fist and open it, to force blood out of the fingers, while manually occluding the radial and ulnar arteries (Figure 57-2A). Continue this process for 1 minute. Ask the patient to open their hand. The fingers should be blanched and pale due to the occlusion of the arterial inflow. Release the finger occluding the ulnar artery. Measure the time it takes for blushing of the palm to occur. It is considered normal if it is <7 seconds, equivocal at 8 to 14 seconds, and abnormal if >14 seconds.1 Repeat the test, but this time release the radial artery compression to confirm arterial flow into the hand (Figure 57-2B). The purpose is to confirm arterial inflow from both the radial and ulnar arteries.

Figure 57-2.

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