The incidence, significance, and management of accidental intra-arterial injection: a narrative review

  • Andrew LokoffEmail author
  • Jason T. Maynes
Review Article/Brief Review


This narrative review discusses the incidence, risk factors, mechanisms of injury, complications, and treatment regimens for accidental intra-arterial injection of medications. Despite awareness of the issue and the establishment of safety recommendations by national agencies, accidental iatrogenic intra-arterial injection of medications continues to occur. Most of these injuries are caused by accidental injection into an established arterial cannula or the inadvertent and unrecognized cannulation of an artery instead of a vein. Although many medications have been injected into arteries without significant consequence, a number of drugs are consistently associated with severe morbidity, including the need for amputation, making early incident recognition and treatment vital. Accidental intra-arterial injection of medications has also been increasingly reported in those who use illicit drugs, as these intravenous injection attempts can be misdirected into an artery. These reports have improved understanding of these injuries and possible treatment modalities. While the characteristics of injuries from illicit injections are diverse and the optimal treatment modalities are still uncertain, a regimen that includes anticoagulation and intra-arterial injection of thrombolytics and prostaglandins may improve outcomes. Steroids, vasodilators, and sympathetic blocks do not appear to influence amputation rates. Owing to the small and sporadic number of cases, no definitive clinical trial evidence exists, but the treatment modalities found to be useful in the illicit intra-arterial injection group may benefit treatment of similar iatrogenic injuries.

Incidence, importance et prise en charge des injections intra-artérielles accidentelles: un compte rendu narratif


Ce compte rendu narratif traite de l’incidence, des facteurs de risque, des mécanismes de lésion, des complications et des régimes thérapeutiques lors de l’injection intra-artérielle accidentelle de médicaments. Malgré la reconnaissance de ce problème et la mise en place de recommandations de sécurité par les organismes nationaux, les injections intra-artérielles iatrogéniques accidentelles de médicaments surviennent encore. La plupart de ces lésions sont provoquées par l’injection accidentelle dans une canule artérielle déjà en place ou la canulation par inadvertance et non reconnue d’une artère au lieu d’une veine. Bien que de nombreux médicaments aient été injectés dans des artères sans conséquence importante, plusieurs médicaments sont régulièrement associés à une morbidité grave, notamment au recours à l’amputation, ce qui rend essentiels tant l’identification que le traitement rapides de l’incident. L’injection intra-artérielle accidentelle de médicaments est également rapportée de manière plus fréquente chez les personnes utilisant des drogues illicites, étant donné que ces tentatives d’injection intraveineuse peuvent accidentellement se retrouver en intra-artériel. Ces comptes rendus ont amélioré la compréhension de ces lésions et les modalités de traitement possibles. Alors que les caractéristiques des lésions provoquées par des injections illicites varient beaucoup et que les modalités optimales de traitement demeurent incertaines, un régime thérapeutique incluant une anticoagulation et l’injection intra-artérielle d’agents thrombolytiques et de prostaglandines pourrait améliorer les pronostics. Les stéroïdes, les vasodilatateurs et les blocs sympathiques ne semblent pas avoir d’impact sur les taux d’amputation. En raison du petit nombre de cas et de leur aspect sporadique, aucune donnée probante définitive tirée d’une étude clinique n’existe, mais les modalités de traitement qui se sont avérées utiles dans le groupe d’injection intra-artérielle illicite pourraient également être bénéfiques pour traiter des lésions iatrogéniques semblables.



Jason T. Maynes would like to thank the Wasser Family and SickKids Foundation as the holder of the Wasser Chair in Anesthesia and Pain Medicine.

Conflicts of interest

None declared.

Editorial responsibility

This submission was handled by Dr. Hilary P. Grocott, Editor-in-Chief, Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

Author contributions

Andrew Lokoff researched and wrote the manuscript. Jason T. Maynes edited and adjudicated the paper.




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Copyright information

© Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anesthesia and Pain MedicineHospital for Sick ChildrenTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of AnesthesiaUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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