What is IV Therapy?

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  • Written By: Pamela Pleasant
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2019
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IV therapy, or intravenous therapy, consists of administering essential fluids directly into the vein. Specific medications or nutrients are held in a flexible plastic bag and a long plastic tubing extends from the bottom of this bag. A hypodermic needle is attached to the end of the plastic tubing and it is inserted into the vein. IV therapy can be needed for a variety of reasons. This type of therapy is the fastest way to administer medications throughout the body.

There are various veins or sites that are used for the placement of an IV. The most common veins used are on the forearm. Occasionally, the veins on the back of the hands can also be used. If for any reason these common veins cannot be used, an IV can be placed in a leg or foot vein, though this is very rare. A newborn baby can have veins in the arms or legs that are too small for IV therapy, in which case the scalp veins can be used.


IV needles are placed in what are referred to as peripheral veins. This means that the IV line is only inserted into the skin and not the chest or abdominal area. The needle has a plastic cover called a cannula, which is actually a small extended catheter. After the initial injection with the IV needle, the needle can then be removed. A cannula catheter stays stationary within the vein and this is how the essential fluids are administered during IV therapy.

The cannula catheter comes in varying sizes or gauges and they are used for different things. For example, an infant will require a very small-sized cannula. Mid-sized cannula are used for things such as blood transfusions or blood donations. The higher the number of the gauge, the smaller the cannula. Large cannula are typically used in emergency situations to deliver the essential fluids immediately.

During IV therapy, certain complications can arise. If the injection site is not kept clean, an infection can occur. The veins are very fragile and when the needle and the cannula is not placed into the vein correctly it can become damaged or torn. Also, excessive bleeding may also be a complication of IV therapy. When IV therapy is being used for a long period of time, the cannula has to be changed every 96 hours to avoid infections.


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