Does the speed of injection make a difference in the amount of pain and bruising in people receiving heparin injections?

Background

Heparin is a drug that is used to help stop blood from clotting. It comes in two forms - unfractionated heparin (UFH) and low molecular weight heparin (LMWH). These are usually given by injection just underneath the skin. Injected heparin goes into the layer of fat under the skin so that it is released slowly into the body. This type of injection can sometimes cause bruising and pain at the site where the needle goes in. It can sometimes result in a swelling that contains blood, called a haematoma. For patients and healthcare providers, strategies that can reduce pain and bruising are considered important. Reducing patients' discomfort and concerns whenever and wherever possible is an important aim of nursing. Several studies have been carried out to see if the speed of injection affects the amount of pain and bruising at the site where the injection is given, but their results differed and study authors did not reach a clear final conclusion.

Study characteristics and key results

We searched for studies that investigated the effects of speed of injection on the amount of pain and bruising where the injection is given (current to March 2017) and found four studies that fitted our review criteria. These studies took place in Turkey, Italy, and China. They enrolled a total of 459 people including 287 female and 172 male participants. All patients received LMWH, and none of the studies used UFH. Participants were treated in hospital, in neurology, orthopaedic, and cardiology units.

Investigators injected heparin slow or fast into the abdomen (stomach) of participants. Participants could watch the injection being given and knew whether it was fast (10 seconds long) or slow (30 seconds long).

Participants given injections said that pain was less with the slow injection after 48 hours. Owing to the small numbers of participants, we found insufficient evidence to determine any effect on pain intensity immediately after injection or at 60 hours and 72 hours after injection. The bruise was not smaller with the slow injection. None of the included studies reported if participants had a swelling with blood inside (haematoma).

Quality of the evidence

We graded the quality of evidence as low because we found only a small number of published studies that reported on this question. These studies were small and had contradictory results. The fact that participants knew whether they received a fast or a slow injection may have affected the results.

Authors' conclusions: 

We found four RCTs that evaluated the effect of subcutaneous heparin injection duration on pain intensity and bruise size. Owing to the small numbers of participants, we found insufficient evidence to determine any effect on pain intensity immediately after injection or at 60 and 72 hours post injection. However, slow injection may reduce site pain intensity 48 hours after injection (low-quality evidence). We observed no clear difference in bruise size after slow injection compared to fast injection (low-quality evidence). We judged this evidence to be of low quality owing to imprecision and inconsistency.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Heparin is an anticoagulant medication that is usually injected subcutaneously. Subcutaneous administration of heparin may result in complications such as bruising, haematoma, and pain at the injection site. One of the factors that may affect pain, haematoma, and bruising is injection speed. For patients and healthcare providers, strategies that can reduce pain and bruising are considered important. Reducing patients' discomfort and concerns whenever and wherever possible is an important aim of nursing. Several studies have been carried out to see if speed of injection affects the amount of pain and bruising where the injection is given, but results of these studies have differed and study authors have not reached a clear final conclusion. This is the first update of the review first published in 2014.

Objectives: 

To assess the effects of duration (speed) of subcutaneous heparin injection on pain, haematoma, and bruising at the injection site in people admitted to hospitals or clinics who require treatment with unfractionated heparin (UFH) or low molecular weight heparin (LMWH).

Search strategy: 

For this update, the Cochrane Vascular Information Specialist (CIS) searched the Specialised Register (last searched March 2017) and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2017, Issue 2). The CIS also searched trials registries for details of ongoing or unpublished studies. Review authors searched two Persian databases - Iranmedex and Scientific Information Database (SID) - as well as Google Scholar.

Selection criteria: 

We sought randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing the effects of different durations of subcutaneous injection of heparin on pain, bruising, and haematoma at the injection site.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors (MM, LJ), working independently, extracted data onto a structured form and assessed study quality. We used the criteria recommended by Cochrane to assess the risk of bias of included studies. For the outcomes, we calculated the mean difference (MD) or the standardised MD (SMD) with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We pooled data using fixed-effect and random-effects models. We used GRADE to assess the overall quality of evidence supporting outcomes assessed in this review.

Main results: 

For this update, we identified three new studies and therefore included in the Review four studies with a total of 459 participants who received subcutaneous injections of LMWH into the abdomen. Only one trial reported the injected drug volume (0.4 mL). Owing to the nature of the intervention, it was not possible to blind participants and care givers (personnel) in any included study. Two studies described blinding of outcome assessors; therefore overall, the methodological quality of included studies was moderate. The duration of the fast injection was 10 seconds and the duration of the slow injection was 30 seconds in all included studies.

Three studies reported site pain intensity after each injection at different time points. Two studies assessed site pain intensity immediately after each injection, and meta-analysis on 140 participants showed no clear difference in site pain intensity immediately post slow injection when compared to fast injection (low-quality evidence; P = 0.15). In contrast, meta-analysis of two studies with 59 participants showed that 48 hours after the heparin injection, slow injection was associated with less pain intensity compared to fast injection (low-quality evidence; P = 0.007). One study (40 participants) reported pain intensity at 60 and 72 hours after injection. This study described no clear difference in site pain intensity at 60 and 72 hours post slow injection compared to fast injection.

All four included studies assessed bruise size at 48 hours after each injection. Meta-analysis on 459 participants showed no difference in bruise size after slow injection compared to fast injection (low-quality evidence; P = 0.07). None of the included studies measured the incidence of haematoma as an outcome.

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