Intravenous (IV) therapy is a medical procedure in which fluids are sent into the body through direct insertion into a vein. By direct administration into a vein, IV therapy quickly introduces medication and fluids to the bloodstream. 

Medical providers use only a syringe to inject fluids in an injection IV therapy. This is a direct injection of fluid pushed by the pressure of the syringe. 

The more common type of therapy uses flexible tubing through which the fluid drips over time. A hollow needle is used to place a catheter into the vein. 

Why is IV Therapy Used?

There are many reasons a patient might be receiving IV therapy. IV therapy is commonly used:

  • To support hydration and administer vitamins or medication to hospitalized patients
  • To infuse medications during dialysis 
  • To infuse chemotherapy during cancer treatments

Patients may also require IV therapy during scheduled, routine surgery.  

Another time doctors use IV therapy is during emergency treatment. When a patient enters the emergency department suffering from catastrophic injuries, they may get an immediate IV of anti-inflammatory medications. 

In other cases, like crushing injuries, the injuries may be so severe that a patient may not be able to fully pump blood throughout their body. These patients may receive blood transfusions by IV therapy. 

Even in a slow-speed car accident that causes a broken bone, for example, an injured victim might receive pain medication by IV therapy until the doctors can reset the bones. 

Since IV therapy is used so widely in medical care, one might assume that it does not carry any risks. However, there are some serious risks of IV therapy. 

What Are the Risks of IV Therapy?

If you require IV therapy, you should know that your doctor has decided that the benefit of the therapy outweighs the potential risks involved. Unfortunately, in some situations, the damage caused by a reasonably expected risk can still lead to medical malpractice claims. 

For example, improper placement of the IV or inadequate monitoring of the IV site. The consequences can be life-long disfigurement or loss of function in the extremities. 

Infiltration

In IV infusion, a medical provider uses a hollow needle to place a catheter directly into the wall of the vein. The place where the vein is pierced is called the “venipuncture” (literally: punctured vein) site. 

Infiltration happens when a catheter slips out of the wall of the vein. After the catheter slips out, infiltration occurs when the fluid coming through the IV tubing infuses into the tissues near the venipuncture site. Infiltration is not a medication error, although it may interfere with the proper administration and efficacy of medications. 

There may be swelling and pain in the area of the venipuncture. The area can become bruised, swollen, and a firm knot may form. Infiltration can also cause phlebitis or inflammation of the walls of the vein near the IV site. 

To determine if an infiltration has occurred, nurses may compare the venipuncture site to the same site on the opposite side of the patient’s body. It is not always possible to visually identify an infiltration. 

Extravasation

Extravasation is the leaking of vesicant fluids or chemotherapeutic drugs into the tissue surrounding a venipuncture site. Vesicant fluids can blister tissue or destroy tissue entirely.

Obviously, leaking caustic fluids can cause pain and a burning sensation at the IV site. Other complications of extravasation include:

  • Tissue sloughing
  • Loss of mobility in the extremity
  • Infection

In severe cases, extravasation leads to irreparable tissue damage. Impacts of extravasation include:

  • Delayed healing
  • Tissue necrosis
  • Disfigurement

Amputation may be indicated in extreme situations involving extravasation. Certain medications increase the risk of extravasation complications. 

Embolism 

One other complication of IV therapy is vascular air embolism. An embolism is a pocket of air introduced into the vascular system. Symptoms of embolism include:

  • Skin takes on a blue tint
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Low heart rate

Air embolisms can be avoided by making sure that a patient is properly hydrated and positioned. During the insertion and removal process for IV therapy, a patient should be relaxing in a reclined, supine position. 

Why Do I Need IV Infiltration and Complication Attorneys?

If you have suffered unexpected complications after IV therapy, such as IV infiltration, contact a personal injury attorney to learn about your legal rights. Most reputable personal injury attorneys offer free case evaluations. 

Attorneys who focus on personal injury cases are more likely to be familiar with medical malpractice laws and other theories of recovery. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, including pain and suffering caused by IV infiltration or other IV complications.