How to Prevent Peripheral Intravenous Catheter Complications

| Last updated on November 20, 2023

Did you know that over a billion intravenous catheters (PIVCs) are inserted annually worldwide? 

These commonly used medical devices play a crucial role in delivering essential treatments. PIVCs are an invasive medical device inserted into patients’ veins on a daily basis to administer medicine, antibiotics, blood products, and other medical fluids. 

Yet while PIVCs are used on a daily basis, they’re not infallible, and few people are aware of the long-term and potentially severe complications that can arise when PIVCs fail. 

PIVC failure can cause a wide range of mild-to-severe health complications that can impact patient lives for weeks or even years. 

However, with the right medical technology, most PIVC complications are preventable.

In this article we review the common complications of PIVCs, potential medical consequences – and the most effective methods to prevent PIVC complications by using compassionate, best-in-class medical IV dressings.

Read on to learn about: 

  • What do PIVC complications look like? 
  • What causes PIVCs to fail?
  • The long-term consequences of PIVC complications
  • How to prevent PIVC complications using high quality medical devices 

Key takeaways:

  • PIVCs are the most commonly used invasive medical instrument in health care. 
  • PIVCs have a 35-50% failure rate.
  • Many PIVC complications are non-infectious, yet PIVC-related bloodstream infections are possible, and the mortality rate is high.
  • Bloodstream infections are the leading cause of mortality in patients who develop infections. 

What do PIVC complications look like?

PIVCs are lifelines for countless patients, however beneath their seemingly simple purpose lies a more complicated truth. 

From mild inconveniences to severe health setbacks, PIVC failure can lead to a range of complications. 

Common PIVC complications include (but are not limited to) the following:  

In each case, the consequence to the patient includes increased distress, discomfort and set-backs to healing.

However, in most cases these complications are preventable.

What causes PIVCs to fail?

Research suggests that, although it is known that PIVCs fail regularly, the cause of PIVC failures are not fully understood by medical professionals. 

There are several key culprits that can lead to PIVC complications and setbacks. Some of these factors include:

  • Insertion related issues including: improper technique, site selection and inadequate securement 
  • Patient factors including: fragile veins, high mobility, or preexisting conditions.

Some research indicates that a condition called subcutaneous edema, a presence of excess air trapped in the tissues beneath the skin, may impact the accuracy and stability of an inserted PIVC. 

Another study on PIVC failure indicates that there may be a connection between PIVC failure and:

  • Upper arm insertion as opposed to forearm insertion of catheter
  • Smaller PIVC diameter
  • Accidental removal (or dislodgement of the catheter) from its correct inserted position

By identifying and addressing the underlying causes of PIVC complications healthcare teams can work together to minimize PIVC failure. 

Read also: How to Make Getting an IV Less Painful 

The long-term effects of PIVC complications 

PIVC complications may come with costs and challenges for the patients that experience them, including:

  • Longer hospital stays 
  • Increased medical bills
  • Higher anxiety and stress
  • Possible long-term health problems caused by PIVC complications
  • Serious and possibly fatal infections 

Although research indicates that the risk of developing a PIVC-related bloodstream infection  is low, the mortality rate is worryingly high, and the long-term health consequences of bloodstream infections are severe for patients who survive. 

According to the CDC, healthcare associated infections (HAIs) are prevalent in hospital and healthcare settings. Yet, prevention proves to be far more economical than the costly endeavor of correction or treatment. 

Read also: Preventing Bloodstream Infections and Sepsis 

Safeguarding patient well-being: Proactive measures to prevent PIVC complications 

Trust in the healthcare industry and in medical professionals is eroded by preventable infections caused by human error and faulty medical technology. 

Preventing complications associated with IV lines - one of the most frequently used medical interventions - should be a top priority in hospitals. 

By implementing proactive measures and using the right devices, healthcare providers can significantly reduce the risk of PIVC-related issues, while enhancing patient comfort. 

Below are some key strategies to prioritize to prevent PIVC complications:

  • Expert insertion technique - Ensure healthcare professionals are skilled in proper insertion techniques
  • Optimal site selection - Accessibility, mobility and stability are crucial to careful consideration of insertion sites 
  • Safe securement and stabilization - The right dressing selection and securement devices are critical to preventing removal or migration
  • Advanced monitoring and care - Transparent dressings and continuous monitoring technologies like ivWatch for early detection of complications
  • Patient education - Empower patients with information on the proper care and maintenance of their PIVC
  • Timely removal and replacement - Reduce the risk of complication by avoiding prolonged catheter dwell time 

Read also: IV Dressing Types: Acrylic vs. Silicone 

Choosing the right securement dressing to prevent PIVC complications

The right technology can help to reduce error, failure and complications – providing every patient their best chance at healing with more comfort and care. 

Covalon has designed world-class products to put new and improved tools in the hands of the frontline to help prevent infections, improve patient outcomes and save on costs. 

Covalon’s ongoing commitment to patient wellness has resulted in the development of vascular access technologies that:

  • Protect IV sites from infection with dual antimicrobial dressings
  • Protect patient skin integrity upon dressing change and removal  through gentle silicone adhesive technology
  • Improve site visibility with transparent dressing designs 

Covalon’s dual-antimicrobial dressings can be used to kill 99.99% of microorganisms associated with catheter-related bloodstream infections.

Contact us today and request samples of IVClear dual-antimicrobial dressings and VALGuard Vascular Access Line Guards to learn why all 10 of the Top 10  U.S. Children’s hospitals for cancer treatment rely on Covalon  to protect and  guard their most vulnerable patients.


National Library of Medicine: Monitoring quality of care for PIVCs 

National Library of Medicine: Best practice in the use of PIVCs

Prevalence and Mortality Associated with Bloodstream Infections 

PIVC Clinical Guidelines in Nursing 

National Library of Medicine: Treatment for grade 4 peripheral IV infiltration 

NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: Definition of extravasation

Mount Sinai: Superficial thrombophlebitis information

National Library of Medicine: Solving the problem of IV dislodgement

National Library of Medicine: Migration of central venous catheters 

CDC: Bloodstream Infections

CDC: Healthcare Associated Infections

National Library of Medicine: Risk factors for PIVC failure 

National Library of Medicine: Early recognition of PIVC failure 

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