How to Make Getting an IV Less Painful

| Last updated on November 20, 2023

Getting an IV should be a minor procedure – not a major moment that causes pain and discomfort. 

However, for many patients, even the thought of getting an IV can bring about feelings of apprehension and discomfort. For children, getting an IV can be both intimidating and frightening. 

IV lines are used all over the world on a regular basis to draw blood and administer medications or medical treatments.These procedures are so common that they should be no-brainers – but sometimes, for reasons we’ll get into below, they result in pain or discomfort in patients. 

Fortunately, with the right practices, medical devices and compassionate care it’s possible to prioritize patient comfort, improve patient outcomes and stand out as a patient-centered healthcare provider. 

In this article we  explore: 

  • 5 x IV tips and tricks for patients 
  • What’s going on when IV lines are painful?
  • Reducing IV pain and fears with compassionate care technology

IV tips and tricks for patients 

Whether you have a patient who is facing their first-ever IV insertion, or a patient who’s been told they have “tricky veins”, it’s important to put patients at ease and establish trust and comfort. 

Below are five simple strategies to help patients prepare their veins and mind for a planned IV insertion. 

1. Relax and distract 

Tense muscles can hinder vein accessibility. The more relaxed a patient is the easier it will be to insert an IV. 

Patients can practice relaxation by:

  • Taking deep belly breaths
  • Looking away from the insertion
  • Watching a video on their device 
  • Speaking with a family member or caregiver that’s present 

2. Promote hydration 

Veins are easier to find – and enter – when they’re hydrated. Dehydrated veins are smaller, more difficult to find, and harder to draw blood from or get fluids into, which could lead to repeated insertions and more discomfort. 

When possible, encourage patients to drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to their procedure. 

3. Warm the area

Most hospitals keep their temperature low. Veins may shrink up a bit when patients feel cold. 

Encourage patients to dress warmly prior to their procedure, or hold a warm compress to the insertion area to help warm up the veins and make them easier to find. 

4. Encourage patients to advocate for their needs

Sometimes simply admitting a fear outloud is enough to reduce some stress. Encourage patients to communicate their fears and worries. 

Establishing trust prior to an invasive procedure can increase patient satisfaction and if by chance something isn’t going exactly as planned, open communication promotes quick resolution and fast management of any discomfort.

Read also: What is Patient Centered Care?

5. Use gentle dressings 

IV line insertion is just the first step to IV treatment. Once the IV is inserted, it needs to be secured, and many patients report uncomfortable securement. 

Traditionally, acrylic dressings are used to cover medical sites, but these can be very painful to remove. 

Consider using gentle dressings: silicone medical adhesives that protect IV lines and insertion sites from harmful bacteria, but are atraumatic upon removal. 

Read also: IV Dressing Types: Acrylic vs. Silicone 

For children who are nervous about IV procedures 

If you have a pediatric patient who is nervous about getting an IV inserted, there are a number of child-friendly steps you can take to help put them at ease. 

Children learn best through playing. Try using child-friendly words and demonstrate medical procedures using medical play strategies. 

When possible, give your pediatric patients a sense of empowerment by letting them touch, hold and play with medical equipment. 

Ask the caregiver to bring in a toy or beloved stuffed animal. 

Watch some of these tips and methods in action, as demonstrated by hospital Child Life Specialists in these videos: 

Empower caregivers to talk to their child about the procedure before it happens so that they know what to expect. 

What’s going on when IV lines are painful?

Is IV insertion painful? Why do some IV lines hurt while others seem to be present without much cause for concern? 

Generally, having an IV should not hurt. Yes, the insertion may cause slight discomfort, but if a patient is in pain, or is continually bothered by their IV line, there may be something else going on. 

There are some reasons why an IV might cause pain and discomfort. For instance: 

  • During insertion, the needle could accidentally hit a nerve, causing pain
  • Following IV line insertion, superficial thrombophlebitis (clotting of the vein at the IV site) could occur and cause pain or discomfort 
  • IV insertion could also cause mild to severe forms of phlebitis (the often painful swelling and irritation of the walls of a vein) 
  • The dressing used to secure the IV line may cause irritation, chemical burning, or a skin reaction to occur 

Read also: Preventing Medical Adhesive Related Skin Injury 

While these experiences above are usually easily resolved through improved insertion technique or using a securement dressings designed to be more gentle, there are some cases where painful IV sites are indicators of more serious peripheral intravenous catheter (PIVC) complications.

Intravascular catheter sepsis, or catheter-related bloodstream infections (CRBSIs), can occur, both carrying a higher risk of long-term health consequences and even death. 

To ensure that IV insertion is safe and hygienic, be sure to: 

  • Thoroughly wash hands prior to coming into contact with an IV site 
  • Clean the insertion site with alcohol 
  • Let the site air dry before insertion 
  • If the IV line is to remain inserted, cover the insertion site with antimicrobial medical adhesives to protect the area from fluids and harmful bacteria  

Reducing IV pain and fears with compassion and technology

At Covalon, we believe that healing shouldn’t hurt. Common medical procedures should be as pain-free as possible. 

That’s why we designed our dual-antimicrobial silicone IV line adhesive dressings to be tough on bacteria, but gentle on patients. 

By combining patient-centered medical technology with compassionate care, healthcare providers can transform everyday, uncomfortable medical procedures into seamless experiences that leave everyone involved - patients, caregivers and healthcare teams -  feeling more positive and at ease. 

Join the world’s top children’s hospitals by trusting Covalon to provide your patients with the gentle yet effective care that they deserve.

Reach out to us today to request your free samples of the gentle dressings and experience the difference yourself. 

Resources: 

Cleveland Clinic - Peripheral IV 

Centrua Health - Showing a Child How an IV is Inserted Using Medical Play

Christi Hospital - Explaining an IV to a Child

Kids Health - Intravenous Line

National Library of Medicine - Peripheral nerve injury from intravenous cannulation

Mount Sinai - Superficial thrombophlebitis

NHS - Phlebitis

National Library of Medicine - Consequences of intravascular catheter sepsis

National Library of Medicine - Catheter-related bloodstream infections

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