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6 Types Of IV Complications (And Ways To Protect Yourself)

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An intravenous (IV) line delivers much-needed fluid and medications into the bloodstream via a vein in the arm. When starting an IV, a nurse must use caution when selecting the IV site and piercing the vein with a needle. Occasionally, a nurse does not insert or maintain the IV line properly, leading to serious IV complications. If you are scheduled for an outpatient procedure or admission to your local hospital, be aware of the potential for these six IV complications.

1. Infiltration

Infiltration causes intravenous fluid or medications to leak into the tissues surrounding the IV site. A small amount of fluid is usually not cause for concern, but some medications can damage the soft tissue. Because infiltration is often caused by poor needle placement, you can protect yourself against this IV complication by letting the nurse know if you experience burning or pain when medication is injected into your IV catheter. The nurse should stop administering the drug and take steps to determine if you need a new IV.

2. Air Embolism

An air embolism occurs when an air bubble gets into one of the veins. This is one of the most serious IV complications because the air bubble can travel to the heart, interfering with blood flow to the rest of the body. You may not be able to see an air bubble before it enters your IV line, so let your nurse know if you experience chest pain, anxiety, or difficulty breathing soon after receiving intravenous fluids or medications. Alerting your nurse as soon as you experience the symptoms of air embolism reduces the amount of time it takes to administer emergency treatment.

3. Extravasation

Extravasation is similar to infiltration, but it has more serious consequences. This complication occurs when a vesicant, such as a chemotherapy drug, leaks into the tissue around the IV site. Vesicant drugs are toxic medications that can cause severe tissue damage, inflammation, and infection. Let your nurse know if you experience pain, burning, or difficulty using the affected limb; the sooner you alert someone, the faster a health professional can administer the antidote to the vesicant drug.

4. Phlebitis

Phlebitis, or inflammation of the vein, is one of the most common IV complications. Some people develop phlebitis due to movement of the IV catheter inside the vein, while others develop the complication due to the irritating effects of certain intravenous drugs. Let your doctor or nurse know if you experience swelling, warmth, or tenderness at the site of your IV. Once you report a problem, your treatment team should remove the IV and start a new one at a different site.

5. Intra-arterial Injection

Intra-arterial injection is when a nurse or other medical professional injects fluid or medication into an artery instead of a vein. This complication is very rare, but it is a medical emergency when it does occur. If you notice bright red blood backing up into your IV, alert a medical professional immediately. Immediate treatment with medication or surgery on the affected artery can help prevent the serious complications related to intra-arterial injection.

6. Thrombotic Occlusion

Thrombotic occlusion refers to an IV blockage caused by a blood clot. One of your nurses should be able to identify thrombotic occlusion quickly because the clot makes it difficult or impossible to administer IV medication and fluids. Alert your nurse if you experience tenderness, warmth, pain, or inflammation at the IV site, or if you experience limb pain. If you report these symptoms, your care team should remove the occluded IV line and insert a new IV in a different vein.

Although not every IV complication is the result of negligence, some complications occur when a medical professional fails to follow directions or does not monitor patients appropriately. If you experience one of these complications during your hospital stay, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as you are discharged. An experienced attorney will review your medical file and determine if the IV complication could have been prevented. You may even be able to recover money for your medical bills, lost work time, and pain if you hire an attorney to file a lawsuit against the medical facility.