Infiltration vs Extravasation in IV Therapy

SimpleNursing Editorial Team Mar 12, 2023
Nurse holding iv bag - title card for infiltration vs extravasation

Several complications can come up with intravenous (IV) therapy, including infiltration and extravasation.

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  1. What is IV Infiltration?
  2. What is IV Extravasation?

IV infiltration occurs when the IV fluid or medication accidentally leaks into the surrounding tissues outside the intended vein. This can happen when the IV catheter dislodges, punctures the vein, or is not secured properly. 

IV extravasation occurs when an IV medication designed to be delivered directly into the vein accidentally leaks into the surrounding tissues instead. This can lead to tissue damage, skin irritation, and even tissue necrosis. 

Both infiltration and extravasation require prompt recognition and management to minimize the risk of complications and ensure optimal patient outcomes. The treatment for each condition will depend on the severity and extent of the injury, as well as the specific medication involved. 

Health care providers need to take preventive measures, such as selecting appropriate venous access devices and monitoring the IV site regularly, to minimize the risk of these complications during IV therapy.

What is IV Infiltration?

Infiltration in IV therapy refers to the accidental leakage of the intravenous (IV) solution into the surrounding tissue instead of flowing into the vein. This can happen when the needle or catheter inserted into the vein becomes dislodged or punctures the vein, causing the fluid to leak out of the vein and into the surrounding tissues.

When infiltration occurs, the patient may experience pain, swelling, and discoloration around the site of the IV insertion. In severe cases, infiltration can cause tissue damage and compromise the delivery of medication or fluids to the patient’s bloodstream.

The healthcare provider may need to reinsert the IV in a different location or apply warm or cold compresses to the affected area to promote healing.

IV Infiltration Signs

The signs and symptoms of IV infiltration may include:

  • Swelling: The area around the IV insertion site may become swollen and puffy.
  • Discoloration: The skin around the IV site may change color, becoming red, blue, or pale.
  • Pain or discomfort: The patient may experience pain, tenderness, or discomfort around the IV site.
  • Coolness or warmth: The skin around the IV site may feel cooler or warmer than the surrounding area.
  • Lack of blood return: If the IV is infiltrated, there may be little or no blood return when attempting to flush the line.
  • Slowed or stopped infusion: If the IV is infiltrated, the flow of fluid or medication may slow down or stop completely.
  • Blistering or skin breakdown: In severe cases, the skin around the IV site may blister, peel, or break down.

It’s important to monitor the IV site regularly for signs of infiltration and to report any changes or concerns to a health care provider as soon as possible. 

IV Infiltration Treatment & Nursing Interventions

Infiltration treatment depends on the infiltration’s severity and the underlying cause. In general, the following steps may be taken by nurses to manage IV infiltration:

  • Stop the infusion. As soon as infiltration is detected, the nurse should stop the infusion to prevent further damage to the surrounding tissue.
  • Remove the IV catheter. The IV catheter should be removed from the site to prevent additional infiltration.
  • Elevate the affected limb. Elevating the affected limb above heart level can help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Apply a warm or cool compress. Depending on the nature of the infiltration, a warm or cool compress may be applied to the site to help reduce swelling and promote healing.
  • Assess the site regularly. The nurse should assess the site regularly for signs of infection or other complications, and report any changes to the health care provider.
  • Document the incident. The nurse should document the occurrence of IV infiltration and the actions taken in the patient’s medical record.
  • Reinsert the IV catheter. Depending on the severity of the infiltration, the nurse may need to reinsert the IV catheter in a different location to resume fluid or medication administration.

In some cases, the health care provider may prescribe additional treatments such as pain medications, antibiotics, or wound care to manage the effects of IV infiltration.

What is IV Extravasation?

Extravasation in IV therapy refers to the accidental leakage of a vesicant or irritant medication into the surrounding tissues instead of remaining in the vein. Unlike infiltration, which involves the leakage of non-irritating fluids or medications, extravasation can cause significant tissue damage and lead to severe complications.

Extravasation can occur when a medication intended to be delivered into the vein leaks out of the vein and into the surrounding tissue. This can happen when the IV catheter dislodges, ruptures, or punctures a vein, or when the medication is administered through an IV line that is too small or improperly secured.

The symptoms of extravasation can range from mild to severe and may include:

  • Pain, burning, or stinging sensation at the site of administration.
  • Swelling or inflammation around the site of administration.
  • Skin redness or discoloration around the site of administration.
  • Formation of blisters or ulcers.
  • Restricted range of motion or decreased function in the affected limb.
  • Numbness or tingling sensation.
  • Tissue necrosis, which is the death of tissue around the site of extravasation.

IV Extravasation Signs

Signs and symptoms of IV extravasation may include:

  • Pain, burning, or stinging: The patient may experience pain, burning or stinging sensation at the administration site.
  • Swelling or inflammation: The area around the IV site may become swollen and inflamed.
  • Skin redness or discoloration: The skin around the IV site may become red or discolored.
  • Formation of blisters or ulcers: The patient may develop blisters or ulcers around the IV site.
  • Restricted range of motion or decreased function: If the extravasation occurs in a limb, the patient may experience a restricted range of motion or decreased function.
  • Numbness or tingling: The patient may experience numbness or tingling sensation around the extravasation site.
  • Tissue necrosis: In severe cases, the tissue around the extravasation site may die, leading to tissue necrosis.

IV Extravasation Treatment & Nursing Interventions

The treatment for IV extravasation depends on the severity of the extravasation and the type of medication involved. In general, the following steps may be taken by nurses to manage extravasation (some similar to infiltration):

  • Stop the infusion: As soon as extravasation is detected, the nurse should stop the infusion to prevent further damage to the surrounding tissue.
  • Remove the IV catheter: The catheter should be removed from the site to prevent additional extravasation.
  • Elevate the affected limb: Elevating the affected limb above the heart level can help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Apply a warm or cool compress: Depending on the nature of the extravasation, a warm or cool compress may be applied to the site to help reduce swelling and promote healing.
  • Administer appropriate medications: Depending on the medication involved in the extravasation, they may be administered to reduce tissue damage.
  • Monitor the site: The nurse should monitor the site closely for signs of infection, tissue damage, or other complications, and report any changes to the healthcare provider.
  • Document the incident: The nurse should document the occurrence of IV extravasation and the actions taken in the patient’s medical record.

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As a nurse, you’ll need to take preventive measures to minimize the risk of complications like infiltration and extravasation. That’s why it’s important to closely study and retain important pieces of nursing management.

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