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Blown Vein and Collapsed Veins from Drug Use

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If you continuously inject drugs eventually, it may cause a blown vein, which may not be fixed and will be forever with you. The best thing to do is to stop using drugs altogether. Our Inpatient Treatment Program can help you overcome your addiction and save your veins before it is too late.

What is a Blown Vein?

If you have a blown vein, it means that the vein has ruptured and is leaking blood. The term blown or collapsed veins can sound frightening, and while complications are associated with the condition, there are also treatment options. When an injury occurs to the veins, the internal lining of the veins can swell and collapse. Intravenous drug administration is the process of injecting a substance into a vein with a syringe. Injectable substances, such as heroin, may affect the skin and veins. These drugs can cause the veins to bulge, collapse, or even blow out. Injectables may also contribute to abscesses and “track marks” around the vein.

Some people also call a blown vein:

  • Blown out vein
  • Blown vein IV
  • Vein blown
  • IV blown vein
  • Blown out IV
  • IV Blown
  • Missed stick
  • Blow out vein
  • Punctured vein
blown vein
The most suitable way to avoid a collapsed or blown vein is to stop your drug addiction.

What Does a Blown Vein Look Like?

Blood vessels can burst for many reasons, but it usually happens due to an injury. Bleeding into the skin can appear as tiny dots, called petechiae, or in larger, flat patches called purpura. Blood may show up just beneath the surface of the skin. Red spots are the most common symptom of a burst blood vessel or a blown vein. Over time, it may take on a green or yellowish color, like a bruise.

Some people notice floaters, small shapes that look like little dots or squiggly lines in front of your eye. You may also see a little bit of sensitivity or irritation. Blown veins require medical treatment, but they do not usually result in long-term damage to the vein and generally heal in 10–12 days.

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How do You Know If Your Vein Has Collapsed?

You will experience swelling, redness, and tenderness at the injection site. After several minutes of the vein collapsing, you will experience intense pain in the arm, and the area will start to bruise. The skin might also be extremely itchy or hot to the touch. After this, you must avoid scratching the area as it can start to itch when it collapses. If you rub it, you will likely cause permanent damage to the vein. Itchy skin indicates that blood is starting to reenter the vein and circulate as it should.

When a vein has permanently collapsed, and there is no way to repair itself, sometimes smaller, new veins will form to replace the one that can no longer function and carry blood through the body. However, these slammer veins do not give enough blood flow, and impaired circulation will result. Poor circulation can lead to many serious health issues like heart problems, kidney disease, stroke, and even cyanosis of the limbs due to insufficient oxygen supply which causes numbness and tingling in the limbs.

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What Can Cause a Blown Vein?

When you have a collapsed or blown vein, you may experience acute pain at the injection site, discoloration at the injection site, and cold feet or hands from an insufficient flow of blood, as well as itchiness and pain once the vein starts to heal.

In many cases, the vein can recover over time once the swelling goes away, and then the blood flow can return to normal. However, a permanent collapse is a very real possibility. Many different things can cause a vein to collapse permanently, such as:

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 identify the correct needle size for that vein.

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.

Rolling Veins

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 hand might puncture the vein but not get all the way in before the vein rolls, causing the vein to blow.

Moving During Insertion

You risk a blown vein if you move, even a little while the needle goes in. That’s why it’s essential to relax your arm and stay as still as possible until the needle is all the way in and the healthcare provider has loosened the tourniquet.

Age

As we age, we start losing tissue beneath our skin, and our veins become more fragile and less stable. They can roll under the skin during IV insertion, increasing the risk of blowing a vein.

Blown Vein From Shooting Up

What does it mean to blow a vein when shooting up? It means that the vein has been pierced and is leaking blood outside of it, typically under your skin. As a result, you get a large, painful bruise, and the vein is unsuitable for injections since it leaks.

Why would the vein harden and swell up after shooting up? Veins are a vast and intricate network of blood vessels located throughout every inch of the body. They are tasked with the crucial role of ensuring your organs and skin receive oxygenated blood. Veins are quite fragile and easily prone to damage and disease. The vein is can be irritated by the drug solution, the inner lining has toughened up and swollen.

Collapsed Veins from 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 requiring frequent IV drugs (for example, if you’re receiving chemotherapy for cancer and 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 inject can contribute to blown veins. For example, studies show that heroin’s acidity can damage veins. In time, accessing functioning veins can become problematic.

blown vein
Heroin use and cocaine injection can lead to the same risks of infection

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How to Prevent a Blown Vein?

Before we address what to do for a blown vein, let’s look at ways to avoid a rupture in the first place.

Needle size: Before inserting a needle, ensure you use the correct needle size, as this will help avoid accidental ruptures. If in doubt, try the smaller needle, as long as it can get the job done and meets procedural guidelines.

Use tourniquet: A tourniquet can help identify potential veins, but they should not be too tight and must be released once the vein is perforated.

Use BP cuff: It is best to use a BP cuff with elderly individuals or those with sensitive veins.

Vein finder: If a tourniquet and BP cuff can’t help identify a vein, then try a vein finder to locate a suitable vein for needle injection.

Heating pads: A heating pad can help warm up the arm and identify veins.

Select straight veins: If possible, choose a straight vein since it is better for needle insertion and tends to cause fewer problems.

Proper insertion: While inserting a needle, be sure the bevel is facing up, and the needle is at a proper angle.

Poke prevention: Once you see a flashback from the needle, stop and adjust by lowering the angle of the needle. This can prevent you from poking through the other side of the vein.

Don’t fish: If you insert the needle and can’t find the vein, don’t fish around. This increases the chance of blowing a surrounding vein.

Anchor vein: Stabilizing the arm to minimize movement during the needle insertion lowers the risk of blowing a vein.

Collapsed Vein vs Blown Vein

A blown vein occurs when the wall of a vein ruptures, especially when giving an intravenous drip or inserting an intravenous line. Collapsed veins usually happen with long-term intravenous usage. Although collapsed and blown veins are frequently used interchangeably, they denote slight differences. While there is a slight difference in terminology and definitions between these medical problems, they can often be prevented or treated similarly.

A blown vein is a blood vessel that has ruptured. Some of the first signs and symptoms you will notice include swelling, stinging, bruising, and darkening of the skin around the area. Blown veins occur when a needle or intravenous line is inserted into the vein but the vein is pricked and leaks.

A collapsed vein occurs after a blown vein. Once the vein is punctured, it may collapse on itself. In addition, this venous problem could occur following repeated injuries to the vein, leading to swelling and collapse. It most frequently happens to individuals receiving frequent, long-term intravenous or habitually using IV drugs.

Blown Veins From IV

A blown vein happens when needle insertion causes bruising and swelling. The treatment will vary depending on the cause of the rupture, but typically involves draining the blood from the vein and repairing it. If you have a blown vein, it’s important to seek medical attention. A blown vein can collapse and prevent blood from flowing. Collapsed veins can heal, but some never bounce back. Depending on the location of the vein, this can lead to circulation problems. New blood vessels will develop to bypass the collapsed vein.

Junkie Veins

Prolonged and frequent intravenous (IV) drug use may cause permanent damage to the veins at drug injection sites. People requiring regular medical care and people with substance abuse issues may be at risk for these conditions.

Vein damage from IV drug use can lead to chronic venous disorders (CVD). The places on the body people most commonly inject illicit drugs are the arms, hands, and feet. Research has shown that people who inject into their legs are more likely to develop ulcers in their veins.

Multiple factors influence the level of damage from injecting drugs. One is the kind of drug being injected. Studies on heroin injection illustrate that the drug’s acidity damages vein health. The same studies indicate that people who regularly use drugs and suffer from vein damage will seek alternate veins, spreading the damage to other body parts. In desperation, drug users may even inject into soft tissue.

Opioids and Injection Drug Use

People who use injection drugs have unique challenges because of additional social stigma, substantially increased risk for infectious diseases, the health consequences of injection drug use, and the addiction to the injection process itself. Needle fixation occurs when a person becomes dependent on both the substance and the ritual of injecting it into a vein using a needle [3].

Through an injection into a vein, substances like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription stimulants, and prescription opioids can enter the bloodstream. Users prefer discrete injection sites. Most users start by injecting into their forearms [1]. When there is scarring, inflammation at the injection site, damaged or collapsed veins, lesions, or bruising, access to those veins becomes extremely painful or impossible. A user is more likely to try to cover up an injection site with clothing, makeup, or tattoos if it is more obvious. The ability to identify track marks is one way to detect use.

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What is the Treatment for a Collapsed Vein?

Blown vein treatment can be relatively simple for those who have minor injuries. These individuals can use their hands to compress the blood vessel. It will minimize blood loss and reduce inflammation. Following up with an ice pack will also help with inflammation and bruising.

It does depend on how the injury occurred. In the case of infiltration—medication administration through a needle—compression and cold therapy can be helpful. However, further treatment may be required if a large amount of fluid has pooled under the skin. In these situations, fluid does have the potential to cause damage to the nerves. Therefore, it has to be removed with a needle. Sometimes, a follow-up surgical procedure is needed to repair any damage.

If extravasation is involved, the area should be compressed and aspirated. Extravasation is when medication is still inadvertently administered into the tissue, yet it is toxic, causing any area that comes in contact with the substance to blister. Once aspiration (pulling the needle back once injected) is complete, a saline washout should be done to flush out any remaining toxic chemicals. A surgical procedure might be required to repair any damage to the surrounding area.

As indicated, most cases of a blown vein are harmless. They can be addressed by applying pressure to the area, cleaning the loose skin with proper antibacterial materials, and applying ice to minimize swelling, inflammation, and bruising. Keeping a close eye on the site is essential to ensure no noticeable changes. For instance, a doctor should be consulted if there is an infection.

When a blown or ruptured vein occurs, it can’t be ignored. At the same time, those who have experienced such a rupture should not be afraid of receiving future treatment that involves the insertion of needles into the veins. An injection or IV can be life-saving. When small veins, sensitive veins, and other similar challenges are kept in mind, a blown vein is something that can be avoided.

blown vein
Intravenous drug users commonly resort to dangerous injection sites, whether it’s an effort to locate undamaged veins or conceal drug use.

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How Long Does a Blown Vein Take to Heal?

In most cases, your body will simply make new veins through a process called angiogenesis rather than trying to heal the old damaged ones. There are certain actions one can take to speed up the recovery process and help damaged veins regain at least some functionality:

  • Wear compression socks or sleeves
  • Stay warm
  • Exercise (can improve overall circulation)
  • Squeeze soft objects (like a stress ball) which can help develop the surrounding muscles and the arteries themselves
  • Take vitamins such as folic acid and flavonoids which specifically aid the blood.
  • Vein rotation; alternate which veins are used. This won’t heal the vein itself, but it’s one of the best ways to prevent further (and permanent) damage.

Do a Blown Out Vein Heal?

To a certain degree, yes: veins can somewhat repair themselves. However, it’s not a guarantee that they will be able to do so. The numerous complications of IV drug use can render self-repair impossible. Even when veins can heal, the odds are that the damaged vein will never regain full functionality. 

blown vein
Substance abuse disorders can be maintained and treated with help from rehabilitative and medical experts. 

How Long Does it Take a Vein to Heal?

The cardiovascular system is the first organ system developed as an embryo and humans are born with all the veins they need. Fortunately, the body is remarkably resilient and does have some ability to recover if veins are damaged. Minor vein damage, such as a blown vein can usually repair itself in 10-12 days. Major vein regrowth, however, can take months up to several years. 

Unfortunately, IV drug use can cause several complications resulting in chronic venous disease which lowers the likelihood of repairability even further. Addiction is often both a cause and exacerbator of such vein issues. The typical IV drug user injects directly into their veins four times a day and is more likely to puncture the same vein repeatedly until it can no longer be salvaged. While vein rotation is a practical harm reduction method that intravenous drug users can use, addiction can make such restraint impossible.