What Is a Luer Lock?

Mary McMahon

A Luer lock is a screw connection on a syringe that creates a leak-free seal. Care providers can connect needles, tubing, and other equipment to the lock to perform various activities involved in patient care. This fitting is standardized, with all medical supply companies producing designs to the same specification. Standardization permits the interchangeable use of various medical devices, allowing care providers to choose the best equipment for a given task without worrying about compatibility.

An IV cannula with a three-way stopcock and Luer lock.
An IV cannula with a three-way stopcock and Luer lock.

The basic design was developed in the 19th century, originally as a seal for glass bottles. Applications for syringes led to adoption of the Luer lock by medical professionals. Instead of pulling fittings on and off a syringe, care providers use the screw mechanism. This reduces the risk that the fittings will fall off, and creates a tight seal with a minimum risk of leakage. For patient and provider safety, controlling leaks can be important.

A luer lock may be used during a blood draw.
A luer lock may be used during a blood draw.

Syringes for injection can come with a Luer lock. Care providers can switch needles at the lock for procedures like drawing up an injection, then getting a fresh needle to reduce pain for the patient. They can select the optimal needle size, given the type of injection and the patient, and make sure it is securely fastened. Conversely, Luer locks can also be used in activities like blood draws, where they can hold a needle or be connected with a cannula or intravenous line to pull several tubes of blood.

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Tubing for intravenous drips, subcutaenous fluids, and other procedures can latch onto a Luer lock device. In this case, the needle can be connected to the tubing and inserted, or it may be left in place to provide continuous catheter access. When no one needs access, the Luer lock can be capped to minimize the chance of infection. Minimal leakage can be important with a variety of medical products, and also helps keep the working environment clean.

Syringes and other accessories with a Luer lock fitting usually indicate this on their packaging, and the lock may be visible in clear packages. There are several designs on the market and it is important to make sure the right one is in use. It is possible to special order medical supplies with this feature if a patient or care provider wants to use Luer lock needles and equipment. Suppliers may need several days to locate and ship unusual items, but may be able to provide service within a week in many cases.

Syringe filters typically have Luer Lock fittings.
Syringe filters typically have Luer Lock fittings.

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