Predictors of Axillary Vein Location for Vascular Access during Pacemaker and Defibrillator Lead Implantation


  • Conflict of interest: None.

  • Funding Sources: This work was made possible by grant number KL2 RR024130 (G.M.M.) from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the NIH, Bethesda, MD.

  • Disclosures: G. M. M. has received research support from St. Jude Medical and speakers fees from St. Jude Medical, Biotronik, and Medtronic. B. K. L. has received moderate research support from Medtronic and honorarium from Biotronik.

Address for reprints: Gregory M Marcus, M.D., M.A.S., 505 Parnassus Ave, M1177-B, Box 0124, San Francisco, CA 94143-0124. Fax: 415-353-9190; e-mail:


Background:The axillary vein is a commonly used extrathoracic access site for cardiac rhythm device lead implantation. We sought to describe variation in axillary vein location and identify predictors of a more cranial or caudal radiographic location to facilitate blind venous cannulation.

Methods:This was a single-center, retrospective study of patients undergoing lead implantation between 2006 and 2010. The cranial-caudal location of the axillary vein lateral and medial to the rib cage border was determined by reviewing peripheral contrast venograms. Multivariate linear regression was performed.

Results:Of 155 patients, the majority were men (62%) and White (53%). The most frequent position of the lateral and medial axillary vein was over the third rib (40%) and top of the third rib (15%), respectively. In multivariate analysis, whites had a more caudal location of both the lateral (0.56 rib spaces lower, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.22–0.91, P = 0.002) and medial axillary vein (0.50 rib spaces lower, 95% CI 0.85–0.91, P = 0.019). Other independent predictors included an approximate 3–4% higher rib space location for every digit increase in body mass index (BMI) (P = 0.049 for the lateral location and P = 0.016 for the medial location) and an approximate half rib space higher location for males (P = 0.015 for the lateral location and P = 0.013 for the medial location).

Conclusions:The most common radiographic position of the axillary vein was over the third rib. Whites have a more caudal axillary vein location while men and patients with higher BMI have a more cranial position of the axillary vein. (PACE 2011; 34:1585–1592)