What are the different types of intravenous infusions?

An empty blood bag and a full one.

Intravenous infusions are fluid solutions given through a vein. There are several different types of solutions available, but they can be divided into simple categories depending on the function they perform. Some replace lost fluids, and others provide nutrients, replace lost blood, and provide medications.

One of the most common uses for intravenous infusions is to replace fluid lost through dehydration. These infusions usually contain normal saline, a combination of sterile water, and sodium chloride. This solution is known as an isotonic crystalloid or a solution that contains the same amount of electrolytes as the plasma in the body. It is used in cases of moderate to severe dehydration, such as that caused by vomiting or diarrhea, when rapid fluid replacement is vital.

Two blood types on a blood typing test card.

When the patient’s gastrointestinal tract is compromised and nutrients cannot be absorbed – or food may worsen the condition – intravenous infusions called total parenteral nutrition can be administered. These solutions contain a mixture of sterile water, electrolytes, sugar, protein, fat, and other nutrients, depending on the patient’s needs. Diseases and disorders that commonly require total parenteral nutrition include advanced stages of Crohn’s disease, obstructive bowel disorder, and ulcerative colitis.

An intravenous drip administration anesthetic.

Replacing blood and blood products lost in surgery and trauma is another common use of infusions. Patients with certain disorders that impede the body’s ability to produce new blood may also need blood transfusions. Depending on the patient’s needs, the transfusion can contain whole blood or just parts of it, such as plasma or platelets. The blood in the transfusion bag must match the patient’s blood type, with the exception of type AB, the universal recipient. Type O blood can be given to any blood type.

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Woman receiving intravenous infusion.

Intravenous infusions are also used to deliver medications directly into the bloodstream. Certain drugs, such as intravenous immune globulin, a type of antibody, can only be given into a vein. Other medications, such as certain narcotic pain relievers, are given intravenously because the method allows them to work faster than when taken by mouth. Chemotherapy for cancer treatment is also usually given intravenously.

A person with an intravenous line in his hand.

When performed by a medical professional, intravenous infusions are generally safe. The most common reaction is mild pain and redness at the injection site, although different medications can cause different side effects. Any time the skin is pierced, there is a risk of infection. Having a medical professional, usually a nurse, monitor the intravenous infusion and change the injection site when irritation is evident can help prevent complications.

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