Management of extravasation injuries: a focused evaluation of noncytotoxic medications

Pharmacotherapy. 2014 Jun;34(6):617-32. doi: 10.1002/phar.1396. Epub 2014 Jan 13.


Extravasations are common manifestations of iatrogenic injury that occur in patients requiring intravenous delivery of known vesicants. These injuries can contribute substantially to patient morbidity, cost of therapy, and length of stay. Many different mechanisms are behind the tissue damage during extravasation injuries. In general, extravasations consist of four different subtypes of tissue injury: vasoconstriction, osmotic, pH related, and cytotoxic. Recognition of high-risk patients, appropriate cannulation technique, and monitoring of higher risk materials remain the standard of care for the prevention of extravasation injury. Prompt interdisciplinary action is often necessary for the treatment of extravasation injuries. Knowledge of the mechanism of extravasation-induced tissue injury, agents for reversal, and appropriate nonpharmacologic treatment methods is essential. The best therapeutic agent for treatment of vasopressor extravasation is intradermal phentolamine. Topical vasodilators and intradermal terbutaline may provide relief. Intradermal hyaluronidase has been effective for hyperosmotic extravasations, although its use largely depends on the risk of tissue injury and the severity of extravasation. Among the hyperosmotic agents, calcium extravasation is distinctive because it may present as an acute tissue injury or may possess delayed clinical manifestations. Extravasation of acidic or basic materials can produce significant tissue damage. Phenytoin is the prototypical basic drug that causes a clinical manifestation known as purple glove syndrome (PGS). This syndrome is largely managed through preventive and conservative treatment measures. Promethazine is acidic and can cause a devastating extravasation, particularly if administered inadvertently through the arteriolar route. Systemic heparin therapy remains the accepted treatment option for intraarteriolar administration of promethazine. Overall, the evidence for managing extravasations due to noncytotoxic medications is nonexistent or limited to case reports. More research is needed to improve knowledge of patient risk, prompt recognition of the extravasation, and time course for tissue injury, and to develop prevention and treatment strategies for extravasation injuries.

Keywords: acidic and alkaline agents; calcium; compartment syndrome; emergency treatment; hyaluronidase; hyperosmolar therapy; hypoosmolar therapy; iatrogenic injury; infiltration; nitroglycerin; phentolamine; radiographic contrast; terbutaline; tissue necrosis; vasopressors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Extravasation of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Materials / etiology
  • Extravasation of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Materials / physiopathology
  • Extravasation of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Materials / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Osmotic Pressure / drug effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Vasoconstriction / drug effects*