One of the most common medical procedures performed in the world is peripheral intravenous (IV) cannulation – or inserting an IV. Over one billion peripheral IVs are inserted into patients around the world every year.

The process may seem like nothing more than inserting a needle connected to a small, thin plastic tube into the patient’s vein. When performed correctly by a trained healthcare provider and properly monitored, inserting an IV is a low-cost, safe, and effective way of introducing medications into a patient’s body. 

However, when performed incorrectly, inserting an IV can cause IV infiltration, which can lead to a range of serious problems, including nerve damage, burns, and even amputation.

IV Infiltration Explained

Although routinely performed around the world, peripheral IV cannulation is not a risk-free procedure. There are several potential consequences if the person inserting the IV does not closely pay attention to what they are doing or monitor the IV after insertion. 

One of these possible negative outcomes is IV infiltration, a situation that can be painful and lead to severe health risks. IV infiltration describes a situation where the IV needle does not penetrate the vein but instead leaks outside of the vein and into the surrounding skin and muscle tissue. 

With IV infiltration, the fluid that leaks is one that does not irritate other tissues, such as saline. This is distinguishable from an IV exfiltration, which involves a solution that can damage and kill surrounding tissues.

Signs of IV Infiltration and Exfiltration

Neither you nor your healthcare provider may recognize fluid leaking out of your IV immediately. For this reason, your healthcare provider should periodically check on your IV and assess how you are doing. 

You should also promptly alert your provider if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • The insertion site is red, tender, or painful
  • Your skin around the insertion site turns white
  • The IV does not appear to be working
  • Puffiness and swelling around the insertion site

Once these symptoms are discovered, the IV will likely be removed, and the site monitored. The sooner the infiltration is discovered, the quicker potentially harmful side effects can be detected and mitigated.

Common Causes of IV Infiltration

Medicine leaking from the IV and into surrounding tissue is a common occurrence

Some of the reasons why this can happen include:

  • The IV needle was not inserted in the proper location
  • The tube feeding the medicine into the vein becomes clogged 
  • The needle or tube is not properly secured once inserted
  • The skin around the insertion site becomes irritated from the needle and moves the tube and needle around

Even when the IV is properly and carefully inserted, it must still be monitored by your healthcare team for signs of infiltration or exfiltration.

Serious Side Effects From Undiagnosed IV Infiltrations

Depending on the cause of the infiltration and the solution that is leaking from the IV, damage to the surrounding tissues can go far beyond simple irritation and swelling. A needle and tube that is inserted incorrectly can damage the surrounding nerves, leading to a loss of sensation. 

Similarly, a vesicant medication — such as calcium chloride or certain contrast agents — can cause the surrounding tissue to blister because of chemical burns, resulting in tissue and nerve damage.

If this harm is not promptly addressed and the IV removed, further damage can result in tissue necrosis. As the tissue dies, an infection can set in that will spread the necrosis to other nearby tissue. This is a potentially life-threatening situation that may require amputating the body part with the necrotic tissue to address.

What To Do If You Suffer IV Infiltration in New York

Just because IV insertions are common procedures does not mean that there are no risks associated with them. If you notice any signs of IV infiltration, let your provider know immediately. And, if you do suffer harm due to this dangerous complication, make sure to consult a New York medical malpractice attorney to determine your best options going forward.

If you’ve Suffered IV infiltration in New York and need legal help, contact our New York City medical malpractice lawyers at Rosenbaum & Rosenbaum, P.C. to schedule a free consultation.

Rosenbaum & Rosenbaum, P.C.
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New York, NY 10005
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