If you have a blown vein, it means that the vein has ruptured and is leaking blood. It happens when a nurse or other healthcare professional attempts to insert a needle into a vein, and things don’t go quite right.
When the vein starts to leak, you’ll notice your skin darkening around the insertion site. Once that happens, the needle must be removed.
Until it has time to heal, that vein can’t be used to for blood draws, intravenous (IV) line insertion, or injection of medication.
Here, we’ll look into the causes and symptoms of a blown vein, as well as how it can be prevented.
What are the primary symptoms of a blown vein?
Once you have a blown vein, you’re likely to notice discoloration fairly quickly. Other symptoms include:
Blown vein vs. collapsed vein
A collapsed vein is a blown vein that has caved in, which means that blood can no longer flow freely through that vein. Blood flow will resume once the swelling goes down. In the meantime, that vein can’t be used.
If the damage is severe enough, a collapsed vein can be permanent.
What can cause a blown vein?
A vein gets blown when a needle goes into the vein and out through the other side. There are several reasons this can happen.
Using the wrong size needle
Veins come in all sizes, and so do needles. It’s important for a nurse to choose the best vein available and to identify the correct size of needle for that vein.
Tell your nurse if you’ve had problems with particular veins in the past and how they were ultimately resolved.
Wrong angle or ‘fishing’
A needle must be slowly inserted at the proper angle, not too shallow or too deep. Being off the mark can result in a blown vein.
If a vein can’t be entered on the first try, it’s important not to move the needle around in search of another vein. The needle should be pulled out and reinserted in a better location.
Some veins are a bit thicker and tougher than others. As the healthcare provider attempts to insert the needle, this type of vein can bounce, or roll away.
The needle might puncture the vein, but not get all the way in before the vein rolls, causing the vein to blow.
Moving during insertion
If you move, even a little while the needle is going in, you run the risk of a blown vein. That’s why it’s important to relax your arm and stay as still as you can until the needle is all the way in and the healthcare provider has loosened the tourniquet.
Long-term IV drug use
IV drug use can damage veins and cause scar tissue to form, which can be permanent. This can happen if you have a health problem that requires frequent use of IV drugs (for example, if you’re receiving chemotherapy for cancer and you don’t have a chemo port).
It can also happen if you have a substance abuse problem and use needles. In addition to the repeated needle insertion that can blow veins, the substance you’re injecting can contribute to blown veins. For example, researchTrusted Source shows that heroin’s acidity can damage veins.
In time, accessing functioning veins can become problematic.
As we age, we start losing tissue beneath our skin, and our veins become more fragile and less stable. They can roll around under the skin during IV insertion, increasing the risk of blowing a vein.
How is a blown vein treated?
If needle insertion results in swelling and bruising, you’ve got a blown vein. It may sting and can be uncomfortable, but it’s harmless.
The healthcare provider typically applies a little pressure to the injection site to minimize blood loss and swelling. After a few minutes, they clean the area to prevent infection.
If there’s a lot of swelling, an ice pack can help ease symptoms.
You may have slight discomfort for a day or two. Bruising should start to lighten within a few days and disappear completely within 10 to 12 days.
Medically reviewed by Andrew Gonzalez, MD, JD, MPH New — Written by Ann Pietrangelo
"what can cause a blown vein and how to treat it," Reviewed on November 1, 2019,