5 IV Therapy Complications

IV therapy is the most effective treatment I’ve ever done. While I’m grateful for the benefits I’ve received, I’m going to give it to you straight: they are really difficult. They’re expensive, they take 6-8 hours a day, and they’re painful. It’s even worse when I get a complication. Here are a few IV therapy complications I’ve had, what they were like, and what you can do about them!


#1: Superficial Phlebitis

This complication is actually fairly common for people that get regular IV treatments (See! Normal things happen to me! It isn’t all crazy stuff!). Phlebitis really just means inflammation of a vein. This is the same thing as deep vein thrombosis, except it’s in a surface vein rather than a deep vein. Usually, I can tell when I’m going to get this after an IV because the IV itself is painful and I can feel the irritation in my vein. I’ve only had this happen when I’ve had an IV in my hand, but it can happen in any part of your body. It usually only lasts 1-2 weeks, but if the vein hardens (like mine always does) it can last for much longer. 

This is the most painful and long-lasting complication I’ve had, so I try to be really pro-active about it. Using a heating pad on the vein during an IV, asking your IV administrator to put a numbing solution in your IV, and taking care of veins in between treatments can reduce the risk of getting phlebitis. Even with all of these precautions, I’ve had phlebitis 4 times in 6 months. Once I have it, I use a combination of topical treatments. This includes Traumeel (an anti-inflammatory ointment highly recommended by doctors and patients), Copaiba Essential Oil (although any anti-inflammatory essential oil would be beneficial), and various drugstore muscle balms (Tiger’s Balm, IcyHot, BioFreeze, etc). Basically, I use anything and everything that could possibly help in any way🤣

#2: Superficial Thrombophlebitis aka a Blood Clot

This is basically phlebitis but it’s caused by a blood clot. I’ve been cursed with being thiqq– and my blood is no exception. I got a blood clot because my blood was backed into the catheter by a nurse. They did this to avoid using a brand new line because my IV fluids had drained too low. Once the blood clots, they can no longer administer the IV through that vein have to start the entire process over again. I got stabbed about 5 times the day this happened because they had to place the catheter twice. It was awful.

There are a few ways to avoid this happening. First, putting blood thinners in the IV fluids. This is a great solution because it thins your blood enough to decrease the chance of complications, but is usually out of your system by the end of the day. This means you don’t have to worry about the complications of taking a blood thinner medication regularly. Second, asking for a large catheter. My IV clinic has varying sized catheters, so I get the largest one possible. The bigger the catheter is, the less likely your blood cells will clog it up. Third, don’t let your IV administrator back blood into your line! Always ask if there’s another way to do what they need. Unless they’re drawing your blood, there probably is! 

#3: Cellulitis aka an Infection

I got home after one of my infusions to realize that my left hand was REALLY swollen. “It’s nothing!” I told myself, as if anything in my life is ever actually nothing. The next morning my left hand was much larger than my right hand. I ended up having to go to Urgent Care and was prescribed antibiotics. This one is fairly easy to spot, as symptoms include swelling, pain, redness, and heat coming from the vein.

The only way to treat this is with prescribed antibiotics, but elevating the limb and applying warm and cool compresses can help. Once the infection and swelling go down, you’re left with plain old phlebitis. I got this infection about a month ago and it’s still painful and inflamed because of the remaining phlebitis, which as stated earlier, usually takes several weeks to go down.

#4: Allergic reaction  

I am not allergic to any of my IVs at the starting dose, but when my doctor upped my dosage of Glutathione I had a mild allergic reaction to it. The onset was really sudden and extremely painful. Once my doctor realized what was happening, she exchanged my IV bag for saline and gave me some medication to help the symptoms, which immediately knocked me out. My boyfriend had to take off work to pick me up and take me home (thanks honey😜), where I slept for a solid 20 hours.

One of the biggest risks of IV therapy is an allergic reaction, and it can easily cause death if the reaction is severe enough. As such, IV administrators are trained to watch carefully during the first dose of a new IV bag, and they usually explain to you what symptoms to watch out for as well. There really isn’t any way to prevent this, but it is always important to notify your doctor if you experience any unpleasant symptoms. I waited a while before telling my nurse because I didn’t want to sound like a baby, and I would have had a lot less pain if I had just told them at the beginning.

#5: Infiltration

Picture this: you’re at an IV, peacefully watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Suddenly, you look down and there is a lump the size of a baseball in your arm, and it is bright orange (the same color as your IV fluid). Would you panic a little? I sure did. Infiltration happens when the catheter gets dislodged and the IV fluid starts leaking into your tissue. Usually, people notice it right away because it hurts pretty dang bad, but I guess Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just too enthralling. Once an IV infiltrates, it has to be taken out and placed in a different limb.

If caught early, nothing really happens. It just hurts for a bit. In my case, enough fluid had filled my arm that I had to elevate and undergo massage therapy to move the fluids into the lymphatic drainage system. According to my doctor, severe infiltration can result in nerve damage and other more-serious side effects, so it’s important to check up on your IV every now and then.


These complications made my IV experience really difficult. I’ve had constant pain in one of my hands for the past couple months, and I have to constantly deal with a new complication, the effects, and the treatment. The physical and emotional toll of IV therapy is nothing to scoff at. If you’re currently undergoing IV therapy, I hope these descriptions will help you either avoid or proactively treat these complications. If you aren’t, I hope you enjoy learning a thing or two about IVs and the last 6 months of my life!


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