What to Do If a Needle Breaks Off in Your Arm

December 16, 2021

4 mins

Dane O'Leary


One of the biggest risks associated with IV drug use is having a needle break off in your arm. But what should you do in that situation? Here's everything you need to know when a needle breaks off in your arm.

Although we are committed to providing useful, accurate, and up-to-date information on topics related to substance abuse, mental health, addiction, and recovery, none of the information contained herein is an adequate substitute for actual medical treatment. Therefore, if you are experiencing any of the afflictions described below, the team at Never Alone Recovery urges you to seek immediate medical assistance.

When using drugs intravenously, or “shooting up,” some users encounter what is most definitely one of the worst-case scenarios for IV drug use, which is when the needle breaks off inside of their arm.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Sometimes the needle breaks, and you can see or feel where it is. Other times, you may not even notice the needle (or a fragment of it) has broken and feel no discomfort.

In this post, we shed light on what can happen if a needle breaks off in your arm and what you can do if this happens. We’ll look at some possible complications of a needle traveling through your bloodstream, and try to answer a few more commonly asked questions about this topic. 

Can an IV Needle Break Off?

Yes, an IV needle can break off in your body. 

Aside from the enormous risk of infection that comes with re-using, needles are manufactured and safety-checked for only a single-use. Repeated use damages needles and increases the likelihood of fragments breaking off and staying behind in the body.  

Repeated usage damages needles and increases the likelihood of fragments breaking off and staying behind in your body.

What Happens When a Needle Breaks Off in Your Skin?

If an IV needle becomes embedded in your skin and you can’t easily remove or see it (or you’re unaware of it), there are a few things that can happen, ranging from unpleasant to life-threatening.

First: Your Body Tries to Get Rid of It

Our bodies naturally want to get rid of foreign objects or anything that endangers our wellbeing. So if a needle is left in your body, your body will begin trying to eliminate it in a manner similar to when a splinter becomes infected. You'll see the area where the needle is embedded in your skin become red, swollen, and sensitive, as the body tries to expel the needle. 

If the body can't eliminate the needle in this way, the area could become infected to the point of being an abscess, which is a more severe (and painful) type of local infection. In the event of an abscess, you should seek medical attention so that a doctor can treat the area by lancing and draining the abscess, removing the needle, and providing medicinal treatment for the wound. In some cases, an antibiotic medication may be necessary.

Second: Your Body Isolates with Scar Tissue 

When a foreign object can't be naturally expelled, the human body moves on to "plan B," which is to isolate the foreign object with scar tissue. If a broken needle stays in your body, it’ll likely become encased by scar tissue over time, and shouldn’t cause any further complications. 

But can a broken needle travel through your bloodstream? And what happens if it does?

Third: Needle Embolism 

When it's not expelled or insulated by scar tissue, a needle that's become embedded in your arm can enter into your bloodstream. This is the worst-case scenario because it means the needle can suddenly reach any point in your circulatory system, including your internal organs. The damage to blood vessels and/or organs that can occur in this situation is called a needle embolism. 

Needle embolism can result in dire complications, such as: 

Embedded in Your Lung

Broken needles can travel to your lung where it's possible to remain without causing discomfort or any further concern.

However, in some instances, having a broken needle reach your lunch can cause severe inflammation and chest pain, which are symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

Travels to Your Heart

In the most extreme cases, a needle that has been broken off and embedded in your body can travel to your heart.

This causes blood to begin building up in and around the heart, which requires immediate medical attention and intervention.

What Do I Do When a Needle Breaks Off in My Arm?

When a needle or needle fragment breaks off in your arm, the first thing you should do is assess whether the needle can be easily removed. If part of the needle is still protruding from the skin, you may be able to use a pair of tweezers to grab the needle and pull it out. Or if the needle is just below the skin, it may be possible to squeeze out the needle in a manner similar to how one does with a splinter in a finger.

Once removed, you should dispose of the needle safely. Then disinfect and bandage the wound accordingly.

Never Alone Recovery Works With Rehabs All Over the Country 

At Never Alone Recovery, we’re committed to providing useful, accurate, and up-to-date info on addiction-related topics although we cannot provide medical advice. If a needle has broken off in your arm, we hope you found this post helpful, but if you’re concerned, it’s always best to see a doctor. 

Never Alone Recovery support services help people battling drug addiction find the best treatment for sustained recovery. Our services include our Never Alone detox support, finding medical detox near me, and figuring out the next steps in finding the right rehab. Don’t wait, get in touch with us today.

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