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What Factors Affect Intravenous Drip Rates?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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There are many factors that affect intravenous drip rates. An intravenous drip is a medical device that delivers liquid substances into the human body through a vein, usually on the arm or hand. Drip rates are determined by the dosage parameters of the intravenous solution and the patient's physiological state. Advances in intravenous therapy technology have made it possible to electronically program intravenous drip rates if the need should arise.

Intravenous therapy has been a hallmark of medical treatment for more than 100 years. Simply defined, intravenous therapy is the administration of medication in a liquid form through a needed placed into a vein. The medication can be anything from simple saline administered to rehydrate a patient to chemotherapy medication used to battle cancer. To be effective, every intravenous solution requires a particular drip rate.

The first factor that influences intravenous drip rates is the dosage guidelines of the solution in the IV. Medications such as antibiotics or chemotherapy drugs require a precise infusion to be effective and not harm the patient. For other medications, this technique is necessary as to not cause an accidental overdose. Yet in some situations, such as when a patient needs a blood transfusion after an accident, fluid is allowed to freely enter the body to keep the patient alive.

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A patient's particular physiology also affects drip rates. In the example above, when a patient needing a blood transfusion to survive is given an IV, blood flows more freely into the body due to the patient's low blood pressure. The opposite is also true to a smaller extent. Patients with high blood pressure can still receive a normal IV without the fear of too little fluid entering the body. The marriage of electronics to intravenous therapy have further reduced this issue.

Many modern hospitals use infusion pumps to regulate intravenous drip rates. These machines are programmable and contain references to dosage schedules for a variety of IV medications. Inputting patient information such as weight calibrates the pump to ensure the patient's blood does not become hypertonic or hypotonic, the condition of having too much or too little water in the bloodstream. Infusion pumps even have the ability to deliver medication on a schedule even if a patient continues to receive saline throughout the day. Infusion pumps are not foolproof; patient deaths and injuries have occurred through hardware and/or software failure.

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