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What Is Intravenous Infusion?

A woman getting an intravenous infusion.
A person with an intravenous line in her hand.
An IV bag.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 April 2014
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Intravenous infusion (IV infusion) is a medical term that describes the way certain kinds of medicines or other substances are delivered to the body. While many medicines or things like fluids can be taken orally, sometimes this is not an option due to time concerns or the need to bypass the gut and get medicines or other treatments directly into the veins. In these circumstances doctors or nurses can establish a small intravenous line that goes directly into a vein, and they use this line for drug or other substance delivery. A plethora of medications are delivered in this manner at hospital settings, at certain treatment centers, and sometimes at home.

IV creation usually involves inserting a tiny catheter or syringe directly into a vein, and veins chosen are frequently in the hands or arms. In very young patients using a vein site on the foot is fairly common. Sometimes medicine must enter near to the heart or the main circulatory system. In this case, doctors may create a central line that will feed into one of the two large veins the reach the heart, the superior or inferior vena cava. Depending on need, a catheter placed can be semi-permanent, and those who will require intravenous infusion regularly to treat illness may need a more stable IV site that can be reused regularly; insertion of one of these, like the Hickman catheter, may take slightly more time to perform.

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When the IV site is established, intravenous infusion can begin and what is infused can greatly vary. For someone coming into a hospital with dehydration, possibly the only medicine infused is a balanced electrolyte solution. If needed, medicine can be injected into the solution to accomplish other things. An anti-nausea medicine, for example, might be added to the electrolyte solution.

Often, the solution is administered in what is called a drip, which means the medicine of any sort drips into the IV site at planned intervals, through a tube. In many cases people have a continuous drip, where medication or fluids go in at regular times until the bag of medicine or fluids is empty. Depending on reason for intravenous infusion people might require several bags of medicine. Control of administration is via an IV pump, which is programmed by the medical practitioner to administer medication at a set rate compatible with a person’s age, size and other factors.

There are many medicines that are given by intravenous infusion. These include many chemo medicines, antibiotics, steroids, and almost anything else. Sometimes certain therapies that boost immunities are also given in this manner. Any time a patient cannot take something orally or rectally, intravenous injection or infusion could be considered instead.

While IVs are used fairly frequently, they do run some risks, such as risk for infection or infiltration. Infiltration occurs when fluid infused escapes the vein and begins to swell the tissue around it. Since this can look dramatic quickly, the matter is usually noticed and resolved. Should people see swelling start to occur at or around the IV site, they should bring this to the attention of a nurse or doctor right away.

Many people wonder if an intravenous infusion is uncomfortable. While initial insertion of the IV may be uncomfortable to some, it isn’t to others. Most people also don’t notice fluid dripping into the IV site, though some people may notice this to a degree. Some people find IVs feel a little painful if they are kept in for long periods, but, again, experience with this may vary and could be a result of many factors such as sensitive skin, degree of sensitivity to tapes used to secure the IV and personal level of pain tolerance. Typically an IV shouldn’t be too irritating, and if it is, people should alert their doctors or nurses.

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Discuss this Article

anon337501
Post 5

I had a saline I.V injection seven days ago from the hospital. It was in for probably three hours in my right arm. I thought the pain would go away but my bicep hurts when I flex and stretch my arm. Is this a serious problem or will it go away by itself? I am a an 18 year old female.

anon227527
Post 4

@Galen: Home infusion therapy isn't at tough as it seems. I would know this because I do this because I have what you call an intravenous infusion. It's when my nurse inserts fluid in through my vein for about three to six hours at times. Sometimes when they can't get the intravenous line in after two, three or even four times. After the fourth time we set the appointment for another date.

But it isn't hard having all the equipment and stuff. My nurse comes to my house and does the infusion there. we have all of the fluid bags, bottles, needles, syringes, gloves, and all of the equipment needed in this process. Every time the nurse comes, I drink a lot of fluids, lift weights, and squeeze a stress ball to make my veins filled with more fluids so that its easier and quicker for my nurse to insert the needle. Any questions please post another comment.

gregg1956
Post 3

They even have home infusion pharmacies, who send people to set up and administer the home infusion.

However, a patient has to have a legitimate prescription from a doctor before they can receive home infusion therapy, they can't just contact a pharmacy individually.

pleats
Post 2

@galen84basc -- Home infusion therapy does involve some necessary moving of equipment, however, in some circumstances it can be very useful.

For instance, home infusion therapy is often used for conditions that need longer-term infusion therapy than can be conveniently administered at a hospital.

Ongoing chemotherapy or painkillers for cancer-related pain, a nutritional drip for Crohn's disease, or even immune-boosters for immunocompromised people are all common applications of home infusion therapy.

galen84basc
Post 1

What are some circumstances in which somebody would use home infusion therapy? It seems like a lot of times that would be a lot more trouble than it's worth, what with moving all the equipment in, etc.

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