What is IV Therapy? Plus Possible Complications

A doctor holding an IV.

Nobody likes needles. But these cringe-inducing skin-prickers are imperative in the delivery of IVs, which are a staple in the healthcare industry today. Chances are, you or your loved one will undergo some type of IV therapy in your medical history. The vast applications of this therapy reach anyone with cancer, to someone who simply experiences dehydration. It is used for both medical and nutritional purposes. In this article, we will define IV therapy, naming some common uses and types, then we will explore vitamin therapy as well as complications that can occur from IVs.  

What is IV Therapy?

IV therapy is the direct administration of nutrients and fluids into veins, allowing them to become immediately absorbed into the body by bypassing the digestive system. This is done by way of a small tube inserted into the vein, known as a cannula. IV therapy is short for “intravenous therapy.” Intravenous means “inside the vein.” This is the fastest way for nutrients to spread through the body and get to the organs. This mode of nutrient administration results in up to 100% absorption rate, in comparison to a 20-50% absorption rate when taken orally. 

You may have heard about IV therapy being the latest health trend popularized by athletes and celebrities. However, the history of injections and transfusions goes back centuries. Up until relatively recently, IVs have been used for medical intervention during an illness. But these days it has become trendy to utilize vitamin drips. Intravenous therapy can consist of incorporating fluids, blood transfusions, medications, or nutrients into the bloodstream. As you can see, different kinds of IVs are used for different purposes. We will first explore these uses:

Uses

  • Fluids: Fluids can be administered by IV to replace or expand the number of fluids in one’s body. This could be done as a result of dehydration. A saline solution is the most commonly used fluid, a water-based solution made up of 0.9% salt. 
  • Medication and treatment: A patient’s medications can be mixed with fluids like saline or dextrose solutions. Since the medication can spread so quickly to the entire body, this is a commonly used method in emergencies. IVs can also be used for chronic health conditions like cancer, by administering the chemotherapy treatment through the veins. IV medications also can replace oral medications which cause nausea or diarrhea due to the bypassing of the gastrointestinal tract. In certain cases, some in-home treatment plans allow patients with severe chronic pain to administer their pain medication intravenously.
  • Blood transfusions: Blood product refers to the blood which has been collected from a donor and given to a recipient in the form of a blood transfusion. This often occurs in times when blood has been lost due to some trauma or surgery. It is also performed for people who are severely anemic. 
  • Nutrition: People who cannot get nutrients through normal eating and digestion of food may get an IV containing things like salts, amino acids, lipids, dextrose, and vitamins. What they receive will depend on their deficiencies. 
  • Sports: Intravenous therapy can be used by athletes for hydration, though these days the practice is not as common. This is due to the abuse of the method, enabling athletes to change blood and urine test results which would reveal their use of performance-enhancing drugs. These days athletes are not allowed more than 100mL every 12 hours. 
  • Hangover: Dr. John Myers developed an IV solution consisting of vitamins and minerals in the 1960s. This was called the “Myers’ cocktail,” and was used for the treatment of hangovers, and general wellness. Clinics that serve these “cocktails” became popularized in the 2010s by celebrities. Heavy drinkers may experience acute ethanol toxicity, and thus use intravenous therapy to help increase their electrolytes and vitamins.
IVs are often times connected the veins in the hand.

Types of IVs

The type of IV used depends on how long the treatment needs to take effect, as well as how much needs to be injected. It also depends on if more than one substance needs to be transfused at a time. Here are the 3 types of intravenous methods: 

  • Bolus/IV Push: A bolus intravenous treatment is administered by a syringe into an access port that has been pre-established. The solution is delivered rapidly with one quick depression of the syringe, or over a few minutes. After a bolus dose of medication has been administered, sometimes an IV flush is added afterward, which includes a bolus of plain IV solution. This helps the medication push into the bloodstream. Some medications are not suitable for Bolus doses because of how quickly they can take effect. One such medication is potassium. Bolus doses typically take 15 to 20 minutes and incorporate 30 to 60 ml of fluids. This type of intravenous treatment must be supervised by a medical professional the entire time.
  • Infusion/IV Drip: This type of intravenous treatment is infused slowly through the use of a catheter directly into the vein with a needle. The needle is removed once the catheter reaches the vein. Infusions can be administered in either a pump or a drip method. In the US, a pump infusion is the most common. Pumps are attached to the IV line, sending the medication solution into the catheter slowly. This is a useful method when the dosage has to be precise. Drip infusions use gravity to deliver a steady amount of medication over time. This is done with the medication solution dripping from a bag to your catheter by way of a tube. IV drips usually take 45 to 60 minutes. They will infuse anywhere from 250 to 1000 ml of fluids at a time. Patients can lay back and relax during this process. 
  • Secondary/IV Piggyback: A secondary IV may be administered while an infusion is connected. Also called an IV piggyback, the secondary bag is held above the primary bad, allowing the fluid to flow into it. Connecting the bags reduces the need for more IV sites in the arm, meaning you get stuck with fewer needles. This is helpful as long as the two solutions are compatible with one another. 

Intravenous Vitamin Therapy

It’s all the rage. But since IV vitamin therapy has turned into a fad glamorized by the rich and famous, it may be hard to take it seriously. We ask, does IV therapy work when you incorporate vitamins? It turns out that having higher levels of vitamins and minerals directly shot into your bloodstream can lead to a greater absorption into the cells. This will allow them to fight illness easier and stay healthy longer. If these nutrients are taken orally and therefore absorbed through the stomach, there are a variety of factors that affect the body’s ability to efficiently do so. Some factors include things like age, health, genes, metabolism, and kinds of products and food we consume. Having a direct shot into our bloodstreams bypasses all of that. With a direct IV infusion, we are more easily able to treat a wide range of health issues. 

Treated Conditions

One of the more popularized vitamin cocktails is the Myers’ cocktail, as mentioned previously. Today these vitamin infusions are still popular and have a lot more benefits than simply treating a hangover. This type of therapy is also recommended for those who don’t eat enough, or who suffer from a condition that doesn’t allow them to properly absorb all the nutrients.

Some common conditions that can be benefitted by a Myers’ cocktail treatment are:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines 
  • Muscle spasms
  • Allergies
  • Pain
  • Sinus infections
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Angina
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Dehydration

Benefits

Besides the list of conditions above, there is a wide range of added benefits associated with various vitamin treatments. For this reason, many people who are otherwise quite healthy will utilize intravenous vitamin therapy to boost wellness and energy, among other things. The list of benefits of IV therapy goes on and on. Some of them are:

  • Boosted immune system
  • Energy boost
  • Clearer skin
  • Stress relief 
  • Removal of body toxins
  • Balance hormones
  • Enhanced mood
  • Better concentration
  • Calmer and more relaxed
  • Balance of blood sugar
  • Quicker sports recovery time
  • Better sleep
  • Quicker jet lag recovery time
  • More fertile
  • Signs of aging reduction

Intravenous Vitamin Therapy Process

Each vitamin cocktail is tailored to each person’s needs. The client must be evaluated beforehand to make sure he or she is a good candidate for the treatment. Only rely on this medical advice given by a healthcare professional that you trust. Here is a breakdown of how the process usually goes: 

  1. Before the treatment, the client’s medical history, medications, and allergies will be considered. There may even be a blood test performed just to see where the client’s nutrient levels are, and to infuse the proper amount into the IV. 
  2. A pharmacist will concoct the solution in most cases, following a doctor’s specifications about your specific needs. 
  3. Then, a qualified healthcare professional will disinfect the skin (usually on your arm), locate and access the vein, then secure the needle. There is only slight discomfort when the skin is first punctured. A dehydrated patient may have to experience this a few times till the nurse hits the vein. 
  4. Then the vitamin infusion will begin, monitored by the healthcare worker. Once the catheter is placed, the infusion could take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. The amount and how quickly the fluid is given is influenced by factors like age, weight, type of treatment (IV drip or push), and medical condition. 

It is common for the patient will start to feel a boost immediately following the treatment but will feel all the effects fully 12 to 24 hours after. These effects can last anywhere from 8 days to 3  weeks. How long they last depend on the patient’s condition, the mixture, and the type of therapy. 

The vitamins used in an infusion are water-soluble.

Common Intravenous Vitamins

So let’s talk about vitamins. The vitamins used in an infusion are water-soluble, which means your body will soak in the nutrients it needs, then excrete the rest through the kidneys and out through the urine. Infusions may contain a single vitamin or a cocktail mixture of vitamins and minerals. Some of the most common ingredients used for an intravenous vitamin drip contain vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, amino acids, and antioxidants. One particular antioxidant, glutathione, has been shown to improve rigidity, posture, speech, gait, and decreased body movement. There are multitudes of nutrients that can be infused into an IV treatment, but it is best to find what will work best with each person’s needs and tailor the infusion to that. 

Your doctor can assess your levels of these vitamins and minerals and recommend what would be best for you. However, it must be said that in general, most people can get enough of their daily nutrients through a balanced diet. Thus the need for an IV vitamin drip is questionable for most people. IV vitamin therapy really should only be utilized by those who have a medical need for it, and have been prescribed by a doctor. This is especially true since undergoing IV therapy does pose some risks associated with it.

Possible Complications

If you truly want to undergo intravenous vitamin therapy, make sure you do a fair amount of research first. Talk with your primary care physician to get his or her opinion on if it is right for you. Have them check for any vitamin or mineral deficiencies you may have that would be benefitted from such a treatment. Be sure that your doctor is also taking into account any medical conditions you have when making the evaluation. 

Also, be sure that the doctor you see regarding the treatment is professionally established and board-certified. The clinic that you plan to attend the procedure may not be closely regulated. Be sure to check out their reputation as a well-respected IV therapy clinic by looking at reviews. Make sure the clinic is clean, and that the medical professionals are washing their hands and changing gloves when necessary. You even have the right to ask for their credentials if you feel suspicious of their level of professionalism.  

Undergoing an intravenous treatment is typically a safe procedure and does not often have adverse effects. However, your treatment must be the right amount of vitamins and minerals for you, otherwise having a higher amount may increase the risk of negative effects. Here are some side effects that may result from IV therapy

  • Phlebitis: Veins may become inflamed from an IV therapy treatment. This occurs when the cannula is too big or isn’t secured well. This can be prevented easily by the healthcare worker using the smallest needle possible. Symptoms of phlebitis include warmth, pain, swelling, and redness around the vein. 
  • Extravasation: This occurs when the IV fluid leaks into the tissue that surrounds the vein. It also happens when the cannula is too large. Symptoms of extravasation include a burning sensation and swelling around the site of the IV
  • Air Embolism: When an air bubble gets into a vein, it could be fatal. This is because the air can reach the brain, heart, or lungs. The best way to avoid this is to make sure the patient is well-hydrated and laying on their backs when the IV line is injected and removed. When an air embolism is occurring, the patient’s skin may appear blue, they may have a hard time breathing, and they can have low blood pressure. 
  • Hypervolaemia: This occurs when there is an increase in blood volume that is out of the ordinary. This happens mostly to pregnant women, children, the elderly, or those with kidney issues. Some symptoms may be an increased heart rate and bloated neck veins. 
  • Infection: If the IV line, port, or the site of the injected are not properly sterilized before the insertion of the IV, there is a greater risk of infection. This can easily be prevented through sterilization of everything beforehand. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, and fever.

Be Your Judge

Intravenous therapy has boomed in the last century, despite being a centuries-old technique. These days we have seen celebrities and athletes get pricked by needles, alongside people with a growing number of treatable conditions. The advancements in technology, equipment, and knowledge of proper techniques have caused this therapy to become a relatively painless and risk-free process. The successful treatment of a condition by IV often far outweighs the possible complications that can occur. However, you must be your judge. 

Besides weighing the possible complications, it is important to pay attention to who you are allowing you to treat you with an IV. Make sure you surround yourself with authorized experienced professionals that will treat you with the best care. And consider if something like treating a hangover is worth possible negative side effects. We here at CareAsOne hope that this article has given you a better idea of what you can expect from this type of therapy. Knowing your options can help you communicate with your doctor about treatments you might be interested in. From anything from chronic disease to stress symptoms, we wish you only the best health running through your veins.

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