A blown vein is a vein that ruptures as a result of a needle injury. While the term “blown vein” may sound serious, in most cases, there is no long-term damage.
Medical professionals insert needles into veins to perform various medical procedures, including blood tests and intravenous (IV) line insertion. Occasionally, they may accidentally puncture a vein with the needle, causing pain or discomfort.
This article looks at blown veins in more detail, including the causes and how to treat and prevent them.
The term “blown vein” refers to a vein that has sustained damage from a needle, causing it to leak blood into the surrounding area. Doctors also call this a ruptured vein.
The symptoms of a blown vein include:
- discolored skin around the injection site
- localized pain or discomfort
- a stinging sensation
Blown veins are different than collapsed veins. A collapsed vein occurs when the sides of a vein cave in toward each other, preventing blood flow.
Blown veins require medical treatment, but they do not usually result in long-term damage to the vein and generally heal in 10–12 days.
However, a blown vein can sometimes complicate medical treatment. For example, if the walls of a vein swell up after rupturing, this can prevent medications or IV fluids from getting through to the rest of the body.
If a person receiving IV fluids has a ruptured vein, the fluids may seep into the surrounding tissue. This effect is known as infiltration.
If either of these complications occurs, a medical professional will likely relocate the needle to a different vein and allow the blown vein to heal fully before using it again.
Another potential complication is extravasation, which occurs when a drug that causes irritation seeps into the tissue surrounding a blown vein. Extravasation may cause pain, inflammation, mobility problems, or infection.
Chemotherapy medications are an example of a drug that can cause extravasation.
Blown veins occur as a result of improper needle insertion into a vein. This action can cause a puncture on one or both sides of the vein wall, or it can lead to irritation inside the vein.
Various factors can raise the likelihood of blown veins, including:
- movement during needle insertion
- using an incorrect needle size for an individual’s veins
- the use of insecurely fastened catheters, which move around when the patient moves
- age, as the veins in older adults tend to be more fragile and movable, making needle insertion more difficult
- thicker veins, which can roll out of the proper position as a healthcare professional attempts to insert a needle
- “fishing,” which refers to moving a needle around in search of a vein once it is embedded in the skin
- vein damage, which may be present in people who use recreational drugs or have received extensive chemotherapy or IV treatment
After a medical professional detects a ruptured vein, they will apply pressure and, if necessary, remove the IV line. They will then clean the insertion site and apply ice if there is significant swelling.
At home, people can help blown veins heal by:
- resting the affected limb
- avoiding strenuous activity
- applying cold packs, or ice wrapped in cloth, at regular intervals to reduce swelling
For IV lines that cause rupturing, a doctor or nurse will assess for signs of infiltration. Healthcare facilities may have specific treatment plans for infiltration, but common approaches include:
- turning off the IV drip
- inserting a new IV line into the other arm
- applying warm or cool compresses to the affected area
For extravasation, a medical professional may also need to use an antidote before removing the needle to counteract the harmful effects of the medication that has leaked.
Blown veins usually do not hurt for more than a couple of days, and any bruising will fade completely over the next few weeks.
Healthcare professionals can prevent blown veins by:
- identifying the right veins for drawing blood or inserting a catheter
- taking the time to prepare the vein for insertion
- stabilizing the individual so that they cannot move the part of the body in which the healthcare professional will insert the needle
- inserting the needle at a 15–30-degree angle
- keeping the structure of the vein in mind as they advance the needle or catheter
- using wound dressings that keep the site visible and watching for signs of a blown vein
Good communication between medical professionals and the individuals whom they treat can also help avoid blown veins. For example, a person can inform a doctor or nurse if their veins have ruptured in the past.
In most cases, blown veins heal with no complications. Signs that a blown vein requires further treatment include:
- pus, swelling, warmth, or fever
- severe pain
- difficulty moving the affected limb
- slow or no healing after several weeks
If a person experiences any of the above, they should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.
If a person uses an IV line at home, they or their caregiver should monitor for signs of infiltration. These include:
- skin that looks paler than usual around the injection site
- skin that feels tight, stretched, or cooler than usual
- IV fluid leaking from the insertion site
- slow or no infusion, in the case of gravity infusion
Quick treatment is important, so a person should contact a doctor as soon as they notice any of these signs.
Blown veins occur when a needle injures or irritates a vein, causing blood to leak into the surrounding area. In some cases, IV fluid or medication may also leak from the vein.
Blown veins are usually not serious and will heal with treatment. A doctor or nurse may use pressure or ice to reduce any swelling.