By Ryan MacArthur |

Healthcare professionals around the world administer intravenous (IV) treatments to thousands of patients every day. While the process of inserting an IV is a fairly common procedure, there are several complications, particularly nerve damage, that can cause serious and long-lasting effects like paralysis, numbness and even deformity.

How does nerve damage from IV failure happen?

When an IV catheter punctures a nerve, it can cause temporary or permanent damage. The needle may enter and pass through a nerve or just clip its side. After an injury takes place, the nerve will try to regenerate and reconnect with severed fibers. This can be difficult depending on the level of damage sustained by the nerve.

Nerve damage from IV insertion is relatively rare. It can be caused by puncturing the nerve with the needle when an IV is started, or from compartment syndrome. Another potential cause is infiltrationwhen the fluid leaks into the tissue around the vein. If an infiltration is severe enough, it can cause compartment syndrome and lead to nerve damage. While this is a less common complication, it can cause numbness, tingling, and even loss of function in the limb.

What does it feel like?

Patients experiencing nerve damage during IV insertion may feel an electric shock-type sensation shooting down their hand. There may also be a burning or throbbing feeling along with a loss of function.

What can I do?

Never hesitate to let a nurse or doctor know if something doesn’t feel right around the IV site or during the IV insertion. If there’s any hint of numbness or difficulty moving, tell a healthcare professional immediately. If the needle goes further into the nerve, more permanent and painful complications such as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) or complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) can result.

Like most causes of IV failure, nerve damage is preventable. Healthcare providers and patients must work together and communicate openly to prevent any loss of function or feeling due to IV therapy.

Download our free guide on How to Talk to Your Health Professional here.



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