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What is Intravenous Therapy?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Intravenous therapy involves the injection of fluids directly into veins. Considered faster-acting than oral or other forms of medication, intravenous or IV therapy allows medicine to reach the heart quickly, as well as circulate through the body extremely fast. Correct use of intravenous therapy should only be done by a medical professional unless otherwise indicated.

There are many potential uses for IV treatments. For dehydrated or severely malnourished patients, IV fluids can quickly deliver electrolytes, nutrients, and water to the body. People suffering from a sudden drop in blood pressure may receive IV therapy to increase blood sugar levels. IV treatments can be used for emergency delivery of drugs, or proper dosage of medication over intervals. Blood and plasma can also be transfused through an IV, in the case of blood loss.

In most cases, an IV is inserted into a peripheral vein, typically in the arms, hands, legs, or feet. Many modern IV systems use a small catheter that contains a needle. The needle pierces the skin, the catheter is placed underneath the skin, and the needle is withdrawn. After the catheter is in place, patients are given a syringe injection or hooked up to an IV drip that delivers fluids or medication over time.

Emergency situations or certain conditions may preclude the use of peripheral veins. In this case, a patient may receive intravenous therapy through a central line. Instead of using relatively small veins in the extremities, central lines are typically inserted into the large veins near the heart, or into the upper right side of the heart. Although this provides the heart with the IV medication almost instantly, there are risks, including internal bleeding. A central line may also be used if several IV formulas are being used at one time.

Careful training is required to ensure the proper insertion and monitoring of intravenous therapy. For those undergoing IV treatments that last for several days, care must be taken to ensure that the veins are not overused. Veins are subject to infection and irritation from prolonged IV use, and many IV therapists will usually change the location of the IV every day or two to prevent damage. Precision in implanting the needle must also be done carefully; missing the vein and hitting an artery can lead to serious medical complications.

If a patient receiving intravenous therapy experiences sudden swelling or warmth in the IV area, contact a medical professional at once, as this may be a sign of infection. Visitors should also be wary around IV lines; tripping over one can pull the catheter out, damage the vein, and allow a build up of fluid under the skin. If anyone trips over the IV line, call for medical attention at once.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Leonidas226 — On Feb 01, 2011

Intravenous therapy training is an important part of obtaining medical certification. When operating with physical human patients, the necessity of knowing exactly what you are doing is quite high. This is why the most difficult and high-paying jobs are medical. An entire culture exists around the brilliant and oftentimes mentally troubled medical community. Seeing people die under one's hand and coming to grips with the mortality of humans takes very tough skin to deal with, as well as a steady and well-trained hand.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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