Warm Plan for IV Drug Leak

Warm Plan for IV Drug Leak


A drug leak occurs when fluid that should stay inside the vein gets out. If this fluid is a harsh chemical (vesicant), it may cause damage to the tissues around the vein. This is called “extravasation.”

Other drugs may not be as harmful if they leak out of the vein, but may still cause irritation or discomfort. Although a drug leak can be scary, steps can be taken to reduce the problems that may happen from a leak.

Here is information on how to prevent or decrease damage to your skin and tissues if you have a drug leak.


If a drug leaked into your arm:

  1. Apply warmth to the area for 15 to 20 minutes, at least four times a day, for the first 24 to 48 hours.
  2. Keep your arm elevated on a pillow for two days, before returning to your normal activities.
  3. Do not apply pressure to this area. Do not lay anything heavy on your arm.


Here are some things you may use for warmth:

  • A heating pad on the low setting. Place a dry towel on your skin first. Place the heating pad on top of the towel.
  • A washcloth soaked in warm, not hot water. Put some plastic or a small hand towel over top of the warm washcloth to keep the heat in.
  • A sock filled with dry beans or uncooked rice that is warmed in a microwave. The sock should be warm, not hot. Place a thin cloth between the sock and your skin to protect your skin. If the sock is heavy, do not put it directly on top of the area. This may cause more injury to the tissues.
  • A water bottle. Do not fill it too full or it will be too heavy. Use warm water. Do not get the water too hot. Wrap the water bottle in a thin towel and place it between the water bottle and your skin.

Every time you apply warmth, lift up the corner every few minutes to make sure the area is not getting redder. If area is redder in color, remove the warm pack. Over the next few days, the area where the drug leaked out should start to look more like your normal skin.


When should I call my doctor?

  • Call your doctor if the area still looks the same, 1 to 2 days after the drug leak first happened.
  • Call your doctor right away if you see any of the following changes:
    • Redness or other changes in your skin color that are new or look worse than before
    • Burning or pain in the area that is new or looks worse than before
    • Swelling or a bump in the area or another part of your arm that is new or looks worse than before
    • Drainage from the area where your IV was placed
    • Trouble moving your hand, wrist, elbow or shoulder


© 2017– February 17, 2020. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

This handout is for informational purposes only. Talk with your doctor or healthcare team if you have any questions about your care. For more health information call the Library for Health Information at 614-293-3707 or email: health-info@osu.edu.