Complications of Intravenous Therapy


When patients are hospitalized and unable to take certain medications or need fluids in order to rehydrate the body, intravenous (IV) therapy, may be needed to deliver these needed items. An IV can provide electrolyte solutions, blood transfusions or other medications to infuse the veins and facilitate the healing process. While IV therapy is very common for hospitalized patients and can be placed in an area that is more comfortable, such as the hand, arm or leg, the therapy carries risks, such as infection and drug-sensitivity reactions.


Phlebitis occurs when a blood vessel becomes inflamed after catheter insertion. While no needle remains in the body, the site of the insertion can become red, warm or swollen. This is more commonly associated with the delivery of medications that are highly acidic or contain alkaline solutions. While phlebitis typically disappears after a few days, the vein site can be changed or the vein can be accessed using a smaller needle.


This condition is similar to the inflammation that accompanies phlebitis; however, blood clotting is also associated with it. Because IVs are typically placed in smaller veins, the risks of deadly blood clots are minimized. The clot may be visible in the veins, and anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, should be used. If the clot or redness worsens, additional treatments should be given.


Infiltration occurs when the IV fluid leaks into the surrounding tissue. Infiltration is chiefly caused by an improper catheter placement or when the catheter is dislodged. Symptoms of infiltration include swelling, pain or itching, burning, skin that is cool to the touch or discoloration. If infiltration occurs, the IV should be removed, and the limb should be elevated to promote patient comfort.


If an IV punctures a vein, this can cause internal bleeding that results in a hematoma. A hematoma typically occurs either when an IV catheter is inserted or when an IV catheter is removed. The hematoma may resemble a lump or bump at the IV site, and should disappear on its own in a few hours or a day, according to

Nerve Damage

When an IV is inserted, it is possible to pierce or penetrate a nerve. This should cause an immediate, sharp pain that radiates through the arm. In addition to this pain, symptoms include a reduction in hand or arm strength. Nerve pain typically does not last longer than one month, according to

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