Risk of contrast extravasation with vascular access in computed tomography



Diagnostic computed tomography (CT) imaging, utilizing intravenous (IV) contrast administration, has become increasingly common. Potential IV contrast-associated complications include local skin and soft tissue reactions due to extravasation. The goal of this study is to describe the risk of contrast extravasation based on IV catheter anatomic location in patients receiving contrast-enhanced CT imaging.


The study was conducted as a retrospective cohort study of patients receiving contrast-enhanced CT imaging performed over a 26-month period at a single institution. The rate of contrast extravasation was calculated by IV catheter vessel anatomic location and compared by relative risk (RR) and absolute risk reduction (ARR).


Of 17,767 contrast administrations for CT imaging studies performed, 14,558 met study inclusion criteria. Forty-nine (0.34%) extravasation events were identified. Forty-one (0.28%, 95% CI 0.21–0.39%) extravasation events were observed in 14,275 peripheral IV catheters placed in a non-upper arm location. Eight (2.8%, 95% CI 1.3–5.3%) extravasation events were observed in 283 IV catheters placed, most commonly with point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) guidance, in upper arm vessels (RR 10.1, 95% CI 4.69–21.8). Non-upper arm located IV catheters were associated with an ARR of 2.54% (95% CI 0.61–4.47%) when compared to upper arm catheters.


IV catheter placement in upper arm vessels is associated with a relatively minimal increase in extravasation risk when compared to catheters placed in a non-upper arm location. In patients without alternative available peripheral vascular access, POCUS-guided upper arm IV cannulation may be an appropriate approach.

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The study authors would like to acknowledge WenShan Lin, Chris Gignac, and Lara Johnston for assistance with data collection.

Author information

JRS, RC, MC, and CM conceived and designed the study. JRS, DR, RC, and CM supervised and assisted in data collection. JRS, DR, RC, MA, and CM contributed to the data review and analysis. JRS and DR drafted the manuscript, and all authors contributed substantially to its revision. JRS takes responsibility for the paper as a whole.

Correspondence to Jeffrey R. Stowell.

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Stowell, J.R., Rigdon, D., Colglazier, R. et al. Risk of contrast extravasation with vascular access in computed tomography. Emerg Radiol (2020).

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  • Phlebotomy
  • Emergency services
  • Organizational efficiency
  • Delivery of health care
  • Health care quality
  • Ultrasound