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What is Intravenous Cannulation?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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Intravenous cannulation is a technique which is used to place a cannula inside a vein for the purpose of providing venous access. There are a number of reasons why a doctor or medical team might want venous access. Cannulation can be performed at the scene of an emergency by first responders who want to make sure that they will have access to a vein and it is also routinely done in hospital settings. Intravenous cannulation is one of the earliest skills learned by health care providers like doctors, nurses, and paramedics.

In the intravenous cannulation procedure, a needle is used to gain access to the target vein so that a cannula can be placed. When the cannula is stable, the needle is removed, and the cannula is taped in place so that it cannot slide out. Tubing can be attached to the cannula to deliver fluids, drugs, or nutrition. The cannula may be left in place as long as it is needed.

Typically, an upper extremity like an arm is chosen for intravenous cannulation. The size of the cannula varies, depending on the size of the patient, the condition of the veins, and the purpose for which the cannula is being used. The larger the tube, the faster things like fluids can be delivered, but if the tube is too large, it can be difficult to insert or may injure the patient. The care provider must balance the needs of the situation when selecting a cannula. These devices are usually color coded so that people know how big the cannula is by glancing at it.

Ideally, patient consent is obtained before placing an intravenous cannula. The doctor or nurse performing the procedure should quickly explain what it is, why it is being done, and how it will be done. A shot of local anesthetic may be given to make the cannula insertion more comfortable. A sterile environment must be maintained during intravenous cannulation to avoid introducing bacteria and other organisms into the cannulation site.

Cannulas periodically need to be flushed, and there are other steps which must be taken for maintenance to keep the tube clear and prevent infection. The longer the cannula remains in place, the higher the risk of infection. A doctor may switch cannulation sites if a cannula is needed in the long term, or consider installing a port for venous access. The intravenous cannula is removed as soon as it is no longer necessary, to increase patient comfort and minimize the possibility of infection.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon239386 — On Jan 09, 2012

I have been out of the hospital three days now and they left the cannula in my arm. What should I do? I rang the hospital but nobody will get back to me.

By Calvin77 — On Aug 31, 2011

@minthybear19 - Geez, that sounds horrible! I really hope my kids never get sick like that, I think I wouldn't be able to keep any food down either.

The only time I ever saw an IV in use was when my sister had her baby. The doctor was really worried because she kept accidentally pulling on it. She was drugged up on painkillers so she didn't notice. We ended up moving the bag closer so that she would have more room to move.

Afterward, we had to make sure that that IV insertion site was kept clean. It turned red around it and we had to go in to the hospital – but it turned out to be okay.

By minthybear19 — On Aug 30, 2011

IV lines are uncomfortable. I got the flu really bad when I was little and I had to wear an IV for three days to keep me hydrated. It itched and whenever I moved, I could feel it inside my arm.

The nurse that put it in was friendly enough, she just couldn't hit the vein. After she tried like four times, she called another nurse in to do it. I guess it didn't help that I was wiggling all over the place.

It did do its job though. I was so sick, I couldn't drink any water and I threw up whatever I ate. It was all kind of a blur, but I'm glad the hospital did what it did. After I started feeling better, I got Jell-o.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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