Whenever we’re hospitalized, we put our faith in the doctors, nurses and the staff to take good care of us while we’re vulnerable and in pain. One of the common features of being hospitalized is receiving fluids or medicines through an IV. It’s so common we barely think about whether it could be dangerous.
When properly administered and monitored, IV therapy is convenient and efficient. When an IV isn’t inserted properly or is otherwise misused, fluids or medicine can leak into the surrounding tissue. This is called IV infiltration, and it can cause harm ranging from irritation to fluid overload, infections, nerve damage, stroke, brain injury or even death.
Certain medications require special care when administered by IV because they are irritating or are even corrosive. Infiltration of these medications into tissue surrounding an IV can cause second- or third-degree burns, permanent scarring and injuries serious enough to require amputation.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about the proper administration of IV therapy are all too common. For example, the Food and Drug Administration frequently receives mistaken IV pump malfunction reports complaining that an IV pump’s downstream occlusion alarm wasn’t triggered by infiltration. The numerous false reports prompted the FDA to issue a reminder to doctors and hospitals that those alarms aren’t even meant to detect tissue infiltration.
According to the CDC’s 2011 guidelines for the prevention of intravascular catheter-related infections, some common errors by hospitals and medical staff that can cause IV infiltration or related complications include:
- Failure to evaluate the insertion site daily for signs of irritation or infiltration.
- Failure to immediately remove the IV when infiltration is detected.
- Using steel IV needles when administering certain medications and fluids that can cause tissue death if they should infiltrate tissue.
- Choosing the wrong IV location.
- Neglecting to promptly replace IV catheters that were inserted during emergencies when sterile conditions could not be ensured, or to remove those no longer essential.
It’s shocking that misconceptions and errors persist when IV therapy is so common. Ideally, IV infiltration shouldn’t happen, and it certainly shouldn’t be allowed to persist for more than 24 hours. It’s an enormous tragedy that anyone should be seriously harmed or a life lost due to such an easily avoidable hospital error, but it does happen. If you or a loved one has been harmed by an IV error, you have the right to answers — and justice.