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What Is Fluid Resuscitation?

A hanging IV bag of saline solution, which is used for fluid resuscitation.
An intravenous catheter is inserted into the patient to allow fluids into the bloodstream.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Fluid resuscitation is a treatment for people experiencing severe circulatory shock where a medical care provider administers fluids to raise blood volume and stabilize electrolytes. This is standard procedure in the management of a number of conditions and the oft-repeated reminder to “drink lots of fluids” is an example of fluid resuscitation. Fluids can be given orally, rectally, intravenously, or subcutaneously, depending on the situation and the needs of the patient.

When people lose fluids, as in cases of diarrhea, severe dehydration, and heat stroke, fluid resuscitation is used to replace them. Blood loss is another form of fluid loss, complicated by the need to get more blood into the patient to replace the oxygen-carrying blood cells. A doctor may also recommend fluid resuscitation when a patient appears to have low blood pressure, with the goal of bulking up the blood volume and causing the blood pressure to elevate.

Two kinds of fluids can be used. Crystalloid fluids are solutions, containing a mixture of sterile water and water-soluble compounds. Colloid fluids contain a mixture of components, including large, insoluble components. Blood is a colloid. The type of fluid a doctor selects is based on what is wrong with the patient. A patient experiencing blood loss needs a transfusion of blood and may also receive saline solution to quickly bulk up blood volume. Dehydrated patients can get an electrolyte fluid solution to replace fluids and restore the electrolyte balance.

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Intravenous delivery is the most rapid and effective. For intravenous fluid resuscitation, an intravenous catheter needs to be inserted to allow fluids to enter the bloodstream. Subcutaneous fluids, delivered just under the skin, are also delivered with a needle. The fluid will disseminate through the body more slowly. If a patient is able to tolerate oral fluids, this method can be cheap and effective, and no medical training is required. In regions where diarrhea is a common problem, community health programs provide parents with electrolyte solutions to mix with water and use in fluid resuscitation of ill children.

As fluid resuscitation is delivered, a care provider monitors the patient for a response. The blood pressure can be checked and the heart rate may be evaluated as well. If the patient is unconscious, delivery of fluids should facilitate a return to consciousness, and a patient who was sluggish and confused may become more alert and aware. The fluid resuscitation is usually part of a larger care plan to address the underlying medical issue.

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