Why do people die when you squeeze their IV?

I just finished watching The Transporter, and in the movie there’s a part where the big bad boss kills one of his lackeys who’s in the hospital because he failed to kill the hero. He does this by squeezing his IV. Lackey struggles futilely and dies in about 8 seconds flat.

What’s the deal?

There’s no deal. Sqeezing an IV bag, so that it flows more forcefully into someone, will do them no harm unless the IV bag itself (or tubing) contains air (lots) or poison. Note that when someone’s in shock, sqeezing the IV bag may be a good thing, i.e. it helps replace lost fluid more quickly.

I suppose the worst thing that can happen by sqeezing an IV bag too forcefully is that the person would get a bad bruise and/or some of the IV fluid would “burst” through the vein and cause some irritation.

I don’t remember the movie exactly, but I think he emptied the IV bag before squeezing it. Getting air in your veins will kill you.

Getting air into the veins might kill a person. Then again, it might not. One needs a critical volume to travel as a single bolus, and arrive in the lungs intact, lodge in a critical location in the lungs to cause a large enough embolus to disrupt pulmonary blood flow and cause a reflex cardiac dysrhythmia resulting in circulatory standstill. Very chancy. It’ll probably fail to kill at least 4 times out of 5, if not more.


I’m glad to hear this.Everytime I’ve had an IV I would always be watching it closely in the mistaken belief that an air bubble could kill me. I guess next time I’m in the hospital with an IV I can relax a little bit.

The last time I was in th hospital I oted with som alarm that there was an air bubble in my IV drip line. I pointed this out to the nurse, who aid that it wasn’t significant.

ears later, I read William S. Burroughs’ book Junky, in which someone says something like “If all it took was one little air bubble in the line, all the junkies would be dead.” Apparently you need to get a critical volume to get an embolism.
In the newest Bond movie, Die Another Day, Bond squeezes the Bad Guy’s IV bag. Apparently it hurts, because he got his attention. Didn’t kill him, though.

There’s that big ol’ bag just hanging there, hooked up to the weaker guy. What director could resist. Kinda like nail guns.

The system I was hooked up to had a little box between the IV bag and my arm that kept things flowing properly from the IV bag into my veins. When it was switched off, things would start going the other way.

As for this box, tiny air bubbles would stop it, and sometimes it stopped for no reason at all and I would have to call the nurse to come in and fiddle with it. The alarm that went off whenever it stopped was really annoying, too. There’s no way it would keep working if somebody squeezed the IV bag, and that certainly wouldn’t have had any effect on the stuff flowing into my arm other than to stop it until the nurse came in and started the box working again.


My mother fixed that idea quickly… I was working as a CNA, and she was working as an LVN, and she informed me that maybe, if you had a bicycle pump hooked up to the IV line, and you pumped it for a bit, you might get enough air in the blood line to cause a problem.

Interesting note: There are things that when delivered IV, hurt. Sodium, of course, as well as Vitamin K (I think… it’s been a few years.

Qadgop is right, you need a huge bolus of air to do any harm.
And it will do harm, more often then not.
Squeezing the bag will only cause a little pain. The IV tubing stretches and will absorb a lot of the pressure.
Now if you stood on the bag…ouch.

Lots of IV solutions are irritating, like potassium, cancer drugs, and some antibiotcs. In severe cases, or those that are in long term therapy, the patient’s IV is usually a centrally placed line (going into a big vessel near the heart).

Yeah, on TV they always show them getting the tiniest bubbles out a syringe before injecting. Pure myth. If you search around most hospitals you will find a CT scan of the chest where an apparently large volume of air has been injected with no ill effects. On the other hand I know of one case where a person was killed when an empty pressure injector pumped 120 cc of air into someones vein in about 3 seconds.

You must have been full.