A “blown vein” is a term referring to a vein that has ruptured and is leaking blood into surrounding tissue. Once the vein has ruptured, the surrounding skin may start to appear darker than usual, and the individual may feel a stinging pain.
If this happens, the needle should be promptly removed. That vein should then not be used for intravenous applications, such as drawing blood or injecting medications or illicit drugs, such as heroin.
Causes of a Blown Vein
Generally speaking, blown vein cases occur because of a failed needle insertion into the vein. A variety of factors contribute to the likelihood that insertion will fail and cause a blown vein.
Some factors that cause a blown vein include the following:
Moving while inserting a needle – This is straightforward. If the individual is moving while a needle is being inserted, it can cause a failed insertion. When a nurse is either drawing blood or administering a medication intravenously, it is important to remain calm and relax the arm until they are finished. Removing a needle too quickly can cause a vein to blow as well.
Injecting into a rolling vein – The consistency of the wall of the vein can vary from person to person and from location to location in the body. Sometimes the insertion will run into and bounce off the vein, or it may partially penetrate the vein and tear it open as the vein rolls away under the pressure of a needle.
Inserting at an incorrect angle – There are typically four angles of insertion for a needle: intramuscular (90°), subcutaneous (45°), intravenous (25°), and intradermal (10-15°). Proper intravenous needle insertion should be done at a 25° angle. Other angles will either miss or cause a blown vein.
Using a needle of the wrong size – Needles vary in size according to the veins they are designed to penetrate. If the wrong size needle is used, it can cause the vein to blow. This is much more likely to occur when the person inserting the needle is not adequately trained and educated on needle use, such as IV drug abusers. Likewise, using a needle that is too blunt can damage a vein.
Long-term intravenous substance use – Long-term, repeated use of veins can lead to damage and scarring, which can weaken veins or make them tear more easily. This scenario might occur for a person who habitually abuses illicit substances like heroin or someone undergoing many rounds of chemotherapy for cancer.
Moreover, illicit drugs are often unregulated and may contain harmful chemicals that weaken or damage the vein. This damage only increases through repeated use of the same vein.
The individual’s age – And of course, as we age, veins become less able to withstand insertions. It is common for individuals to gradually lose certain tissues in and under as they get older, which can make it easier for veins to roll away from a needle.
What Is a Collapsed Vein?
A collapsed vein occurs when repeated insults to a vein, usually over time, cause it to cave in on itself or swell closed. This injury generally restricts blood circulation through the injured vein, causing cold hands or feet, chronic stabbing pains, bruising or discoloration, itching, tingling, and numbness.
Collapsed veins tend to occur when the conditions for injection are not ideal, which is typical for IV drug abuse. Poor injection technique, blunt needles, and repeated use of the same vein increase the risk of collapse. These injuries can sometimes heal on their own, but some collapsed veins are permanent.
Other Complications of IV Drug Use
Intravenous substance abuse can cause a host of short- and long-term problems at and around injection sites. Besides a blown vein, IV drug use can the following complications:
- Bloodborne illnesses
- Collapsed veins
- Decreased circulation
- Infected abscesses
- Swollen hands or feet
- Systemic infection
- Track marks
Treating a Damaged Vein
If you suspect you have a blown or collapsed vein, immediately stop using it so it won’t suffer further injury and can begin to heal. Next, visit your primary care physician. They may prescribe medications known as vasodilators to increase blood flow.
Wearing a compression sock on the injured area may help promote healthy blood flow—but, again, discuss this option with your doctor. Also, exercise improves cardiovascular health and jumpstarts the body’s ability to heal. And if the damage is particularly severe, laser surgery can be undergone to repair it.
Nonetheless, the best approach is prevention. Ceasing all IV drug use is the only way to ensure you don’t cause yourself injuries like blown veins or worse. If you want to quit using drugs but are having trouble, we urge you to enter a rehab program to help you get clean.
Treatment for Substance Abuse
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer detox services and state-of-the-art, comprehensive treatment programs in residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient formats. Our addiction treatment approach employs numerous therapeutic modalities and activities, including, but not limited to cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, support groups, art and music therapy, mindfulness therapy, relapse prevention, and more.