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What Causes IV Infiltration and How to Prevent It

IV therapy is quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of preventative treatment in the country. While IV therapy was once reserved for hospital settings under the watchful eye of doctors and nurses, it’s now available in many different avenues.

However, regardless of what setting you receive your IV treatment in, your IV administrator must follow proper safety procedures. IV treatment will not only not be effective if it’s administered in unsafe conditions, but it’s also very dangerous. IV infiltration is one of the biggest problems when IVs are inserted improperly.

In this article, we’ll look at what causes IV infiltration and how to prevent it. We’ll also look at what you should do if you’re the victim of IV infiltration and why it’s so dangerous.

What is IV Infiltration, and How Does it Happen?

Whether you’re having an IV therapy administered for medical treatment purposes or to enhance your immune system, there are always risks involved. IV stands for intravenous therapy and is when you have IV fluids, medications, vitamins, and other supplements directly inserted into your veins. This method of administration allows vital supplements to get directly into your bloodstream and take quick effect.

IV infiltration is when the contents of your IV therapy leak out of your veins and into surrounding tissues and organs. According to a recent study, nearly 50% of IVs fail and cause complications, most of them minor. IV infiltration accounts for 20% of these complications and is a relatively common problem with IV therapy.

It’s important to note that IV infiltration can only occur when the IV fluid is non-vesicant and doesn’t immediately irritate the tissue it touches. IV fluids that can cause infiltration include antibiotics, saline solutions, dextrose solutions, and vitamins or minerals included with IV fluids.

What Causes IV Infiltration to Occur?

There are a few ways that IV infiltration can occur, with some of them being the administrator’s fault and some of them being natural or caused by the patient.

  • The Catheter Becomes Dislodged

The catheter is the portion of the IV that gets inserted into your veins and delivers the contents of the IV. If you have an IV inserted into your body, you must lie still and not do anything that will cause the catheter to move around. If you nudge it too much or move the portion of your body with the catheter inserted, there’s a chance that the catheter will become dislodged.

Unfortunately, a dislodged catheter doesn’t come out of your body. Instead, it simply gets pulled out of the vein but continues the flow of IV fluids. These fluids then follow the least resistance path and typically end up in the surrounding tissues.

  • Leakages

Another possible cause of IV infiltration is when the hole that the catheter forms when it enters your vein doesn’t seal completely. As a result, there’s a good chance that trace amounts of the IV fluid will leak out of the hole and into the surrounding tissue.

Leakages can also happen if an unforeseen clot in your vein causes the fluids to back up to the insertion site.

  • Fragile Veins

There are also times when the person receiving the IV treatment has what’s known as porous or fragile veins. When this happens, the vein is too weak to handle the infusion of IV fluids and blows out or bursts. This problem is most common in elderly patients and happens very infrequently.

  • The catheter is inserted incorrectly

Ultimately, there’s a chance that your IV tech or nurse inserted your catheter incorrectly. This can happen when new or inexperienced people install your IV. Improper insertion usually happens when the IV doesn’t get inserted far enough into the vein, and it backs out. It can also happen if the IV is inserted too far and pushes through the other side of the vein wall. Either way, IV infiltration is the most likely result.

Why is IV infiltration dangerous?

While IV infiltration isn’t as dangerous as extravasation, which is leakage of a vesicant IV fluid, it’s still a problem. IV infiltration is especially dangerous if you don’t catch the problem and leave it untreated. Here are some of the short-term complications caused by IV infiltration.

  • Swelling at or near the site of the IV
  • Pain ranging from burning and intense to barely noticeable
  • Discoloration or redness of the skin
  • Numbness and impaired blood circulation

However, IV infusion can turn into a serious problem if left untreated. Here are some of the long-term risks of IV infiltration.

Compartment syndrome can result if enough pressure builds up due to swelling, inflammation, and reduced blood flow. Compartment syndrome usually occurs in the arms or legs and is extremely painful and dangerous. The only way to treat compartment syndrome when it’s severe enough is with decompression surgery.

Depending on the type of IV fluid that’s leaking, it can cause burns or death to the tissue it touches. Surgery and skin grafts are often necessary to replace the damaged tissue.

  • Limb Amputation

If the burns and damage are too severe, amputation of the affected limb may be necessary to keep the problem from spreading.

How Can I Treat IV Infiltration?

If you have recently received or are currently receiving an IV treatment and notice redness, pain, or swelling around the insertion site, there’s a chance you have IV infiltration. Treatment options for IV infiltration include:

  • Applying hot and cold compresses to the site.
  • Elevating the extremity.
  • Having a medical professional inject medications into the surrounding tissue.

Ongoing treatment and care should include hot and cold compresses, elevation, rest, and vigilance as you protect and monitor the affected area.

How to Prevent IV Infiltration From Happening

While IV infiltration is fairly common, it’s almost always preventable. By having your IV installed by a caring and competent medical professional who adheres to strict safety principles, you can avoid being the victim of IV infiltration. You should also make sure that your IV administrator pays close attention to you during and after your IV treatment.

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