An intravenous (IV) bag is a sterile bag used to hold fluids that are administered to a patient intravenously, or in the veins, in a practice known as intravenous therapy. These fluids can be anything from mixtures of medicines, to blood for a blood transfusion, to saline for hydration. Delivering medicines or fluids intravenously ensures that the medicines or fluids being administered are distributed throughout the patient’s body in the fastest way possible, via the bloodstream. IV therapy using an intravenous bag is often called an IV “drip,” to avoid being confused with an IV bolus, also called an IV “push,” which is an injection from a syringe directly into the vein, through an IV cannula, or through an injection port on the bag.
Commonly, intravenous bags are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or other plastics. Some intravenous bag manufacturers offer non-PVC versions for consumers worried about contamination from chemicals used in making the vinyl. Intravenous bags are often labeled with measurements to gauge how much fluid is inside. When purchased premixed from a manufacturer, an intravenous bag will also have a label that details the contents of the bag. They come in various sizes to accommodate dosage needs and the varying viscosity of the fluids being administered.
In addition to being sterile, many intravenous bags are disposable. Throwing away the intravenous bag after it has been used prevents several possible problems, including contaminating future fluids with remnants of previous ones. In a hospital, a reused intravenous bag would be prepared in a clean room and filled with a syringe to avoid contamination. Brand new sterile bags and other equipment, however, may reduce the risk of infection from improper sterilization.
An intravenous bag by itself only holds fluids, and requires several other accessories to function effectively as a method of administering the fluids. Typically, the bags are designed to be hung from a stand or pole to keep the bag elevated above the patient’s heart, which controls the rate at which gravity causes the fluid to drip. Warmers may be needed to bring the fluid up to body temperature before it is given to the patient. Valves or clamps control how much fluid is released at one time, and tubing carries the fluid to the patient, then into the vein through a needle or cannula. Drip chambers ensure that no air bubbles are allowed to enter the veins.