CT contrast extravasation in the upper extremity: strategies for management

Int J Surg. 2010;8(5):384-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2010.06.002. Epub 2010 Jun 10.


Introduction: Extravasation of CT scan contrast media into upper extremity subcutaneous tissue is a relatively frequent complication of injection. Potential sequelae of extravasation include compartment syndrome, skin sloughing, and necrosis. Many institutions institute protocols requiring inpatient plastic surgery consultations immediately following extravasation injury to the upper extremity. We hypothesize that conversion to non-ionic contrast media for contrast CT studies has greatly reduced the incidence of severe extravasation injuries, and may alleviate the need for routine hand surgery consultations.

Methods: Records from 102 consecutive CT contrast media extravasation injuries were identified. Data acquired from a single institution included type and amount of contrast extravasated, anatomic location, post-procedural clinical symptoms, whether consult was obtained, and final recommendations and outcome.

Results: In 102 consecutive cases, immediate surgical therapy was necessary in 0. Non-ionic medium was used in 94% of these cases, and ionic dye was used in 6%. Extravasation of less than 100 cc occurred in 90%, and only 10% were greater. Plastic surgery consultation was immediately obtained in 42% of cases. Factors prompting consultation included extravasation >30 cc, and the presence of erythema or induration. Trends for consultation remained without discernable pattern when patients were stratified by age, amount of extravasate, or anatomic location. Conservative management was recommended in all cases. This included elevation of the extremity, frequent pulse and sensation exams, local message, and temporary splinting. There were no secondary complications requiring surgical intervention.

Conclusions: Extravasation of non-ionic CT contrast media appears to be innocuous and can be treated with conservative therapy. Plastic surgery consultation should be obtained when there are obvious signs of skin and soft tissue compromise or symptoms of compartment syndrome.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Contrast Media / administration & dosage
  • Contrast Media / adverse effects*
  • Extravasation of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Materials / epidemiology
  • Extravasation of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Materials / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Injections, Intravenous / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Prognosis
  • Reconstructive Surgical Procedures / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Upper Extremity
  • Young Adult


  • Contrast Media