What Are the Different Types of Intravenous Fluids?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 21 February 2019
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There are a few different kinds of intravenous (IV) fluids given to patients in hospitals, ambulances, and emergency settings. Each type of IV therapy depends on what a patient requires for treatment, and intravenous fluids have drastically different effects on the body depending on which are used. Aside from fluids that deliver medications, an IV drip can consist of colloids, or fluids that stay inside the blood vessels, or crystalloids, which can have different effects depending on how concentrated the electrolytes are within the fluids. Blood, red blood cells, plasma, and platelets can also be injected intravenously, while alternative fluids that can carry oxygen are also available.

Colloid-based fluids stay inside the blood vessels because it contains molecules and proteins too big to pass into the surrounding cells. The fluids increase blood volume and also cause water from cells to enter the bloodstream. Long-term use can dehydrate cells, and colloid fluids are difficult to store outside of a hospital.


The most viable intravenous fluids used before patients enter hospitals are crystalloid solutions. Depending on the concentration of electrolytes, the fluids behave differently in terms of how water is distributed. Tonicity defines how many electrolytes are concentrated in the solution in relation to the human body, and how the fluid gets across membranes based on this relationship is called osmosis. Fluids that have equal electrolytes to the body plasma are called isotonic crystalloids, while hypertonic crystalloids are higher in tonicity and cause fluids to fill the blood vessels. Hypotonic fluids have a lower tonicity, so they allow water to move from inside blood vessels toward cells.

Body fluids tend to move toward areas where the electrolytes or molecule count are higher. Medical personnel administer fluids based on knowledge of what a patient needs. It is extremely important to give the proper concentration of fluid, because the wrong one can be fatal for someone who is sick or injured.

Another type of intravenous therapy is the injection of blood, or components of it. Blood volume can be increased and the concentration of red blood cells with hemoglobin, which carries oxygen, is raised. Synthetic intravenous fluids include oxygen-carrying solutions, which can carry oxygen throughout the body similar to how blood does and are easily transported into the field where injuries may have led to extreme blood loss. All IV fluid bags are required to have a label indicating the type, amount of, and expiration date of the solution.


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Post 4

Intravenous fluid therapy is sometimes used in cases of dehydration. A friend told me about a friend of hers who went hiking in a desert area of Nevada. It was a hot day and the hiker apparently didn't bring enough fluids or he just overexerted.

When he returned, he called my friend and she took him to urgent care. He had all the symptoms of severe dehydration. They tried a solution of salts and sugars by mouth, but he didn't improve, so my friend took him to the hospital and they began intravenously replacing the lost fluid.

It was a successful treatment. Word of warning - avoid dehydration, use common sense!

Post 3

My father contracted a disease called Guillaume Barre. This is a very rare disease and causes paralysis to sweep through the body. After conservative treatments failed, his blood was taken out. The plasma was separated and something was done to it and then the plasma and blood was put back into his body via an IV. This method was tried to no avail and he died within a couple of weeks.

I'm glad there was this option to try to treat the blood plasma though. The doctors worked hard to treat this rare disease.

Post 2

@dfoster85 - I had intravenous fluid therapy as well because I had a scheduled C-section for placenta previa.

I think what's usually given for laboring women is a crystalloid solution of plain old saline (salt water). The idea is just to keep you hydrated, but of course other medications can be given through your IV once it's hooked up, like Pitocin.

The World Health Organization is against the routine use of fluids during labor. Eating and drinking (and most hospitals won't allow eating, even if they do "allow" clear fluids) during labor will keep a woman's energy up better and reduce the need for other interventions. Some people think that too many IV fluids can reduce the strength of contractions, for instance.

I also wonder, personally, if IV fluids during labor result in a bigger baby. it seems like if mom can get super-swollen legs from the fluids, baby is probably getting bloated on them, too.

Post 1

When I was in the hospital having my baby, I had IV fluids. They are offered routinely to women in labor, but I had declined at first because I was perfectly capable of drinking water. I started them when I requested narcotic pain relief and then they stayed in until after my C-section. What intravenous fluid type were they probably giving me?

What do they usually give to women in labor?

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