Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent very different complications from an IV catheter.
With both infiltration and extravasation, the fluid being administered to the patient leaks into the surrounding tissues as opposed to the vein in which the IV is inserted. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as improper catheter insertion, catheter dislodgement and clot formation.
An extravasation occurs when a highly caustic solution known as a vesicant (one that can cause severe tissue damage or blistering), improperly infuses into the surrounding tissue as opposed to the intended vein. Many chemotherapy medications, antibiotics, nutritional supplements high in glucose concentration, blood pressure regulating medications, and electrolyte replacements are vesicants or have vesicant properties that can cause significant tissue damage if the solution improperly is infused into the soft tissues instead of the patient’s vein.