By Sue Carrington |

One of the potential complications when you receive an IV is infiltration – when the fluid leaks out of the vein into the surrounding tissue. If this happens, you may also experience compartment syndrome.

Compartment Syndrome Overview

Muscles in your forearm, lower leg, and other parts of your body are surrounded by tissue. These tissue bands create “compartments.”

If your IV leaks outside of the vein into the tissue in your hand or arm, it can cause increased pressure and painful swelling in these compartments. The tissue is inflexible and can’t stretch to adapt. Blood will stop flowing to the area, which can cause muscle and nerve damage.


Symptoms typically start suddenly and quickly get worse. The main symptom is severe pain. You may also feel burning, tightness, or a “pins and needles” sensation around the affected area. The area around your IV site may be pale and feel cold, tense, or hard. You may experience weakness or difficulty moving your arm or hand.


If treatment is delayed, you could have permanent damage to your muscles and nerves. In extreme cases, all or part of the injured arm may need to be amputated. If left untreated, compartment syndrome may also lead to heart problems or kidney damage.

Treatment Options

Recovery depends on how quickly the patient is diagnosed and treated. Fast treatment means that blood supply to the muscles can be restored before permanent damage is done. Some experts say that to prevent muscle death, treatment needs to be within six hours.

Treatment may include surgery to decrease pain, pressure, and swelling. If this is the case, your healthcare provider will make an incision into your injured arm. You may also receive oxygen therapy to get more oxygen into your body. Physical therapy can help decrease pain and improve movement, function, and strength.


Compartment syndrome is a serious complication of IV infiltration. The best way to avoid the risk of permanent damage is to keep an eye on your arm or hand during IV therapy. Be your own advocate, speak up and let your care team know immediately if you experience any of the symptoms described here.

Learn the IV infiltration symptoms to look for here.



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