Intravenous Fluid Regulation

Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on June 5, 2013

What is Intravenous Fluid Regulation?

When you have fluids administered by an intravenous (IV) line, the amount of fluids going into your body must be regulated. There are different ways to regulate the flow in an IV, including manually adjusting the rate and using an electric pump. Regardless of how it is regulated, medical caregivers must check IVs regularly to ensure that the correct dosage and rate of flow are being administered.

Intravenous fluid regulation is the control of the amount of fluids a patient receives when getting treatment via the administration of fluids through a blood vessel, usually a vein. There are many reasons to be administered fluids intravenously. All of these require control of the amount given. If there is no control, the rate of fluid administration relies on gravity alone. This can result in a patient receiving either too much or too little.

Purpose of Intravenous Fluid Administration and Regulation

There are several reasons why a patient might need to have fluids administered intravenously. This typically involves injecting fluid through a vein, usually on the arm. Fluids used are water with either salt, sugar, or medications added in concentrations that depend on the individual. IV treatments include:

  • rehydration after being dehydrated from illness or excessive activity
  • antibiotics to treat an infection
  • chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment
  • medications for the treatment of pain

Rate and quantity of intravenous fluid depends on medical condition, body size, and age. Regulation ensures the correct amount of fluid drips from the bag down the tube into the vein at the correct rate. Complications can result from receiving too much, too quickly, or not enough, too slowly.

Types of Intravenous Fluid Regulation

There are two ways to regulate the amount and rate of fluids given during intravenous therapy.

Manual Regulation

The rate of fluid dripping from a bag into an IV can be regulated through a manual technique. A nurse or other caregiver increases or decreases the pressure that a clamp puts on the IV tube to either slow or speed the rate of flow. The caregiver can count the number of drops per minute to make sure the rate of flow is correct, and adjust as needed.

Pump

The rate can also be modulated with an electric pump. The caregiver programs the pump to deliver the desired amount of fluid into the IV at the correct rate. Whether done manually or with a pump, IVs must be checked regularly to be sure the patient is getting the correct amount of fluid.

What to Expect During Intravenous Fluid Regulation

A doctor must first determine the type of fluid a patient needs, as well as the amount and the rate at which it will be delivered. A nurse will then disinfect the skin over the injection site, locate a vein, and insert the needle for the IV catheter. It will sting a little when the needle goes in, but after that there should be no pain.

The caregiver will then adjust the IV manually or with a pump to set it to the correct rate of flow. Someone will check back regularly to make sure the patient is doing well and that the IV is delivering the fluid correctly. If there are any problems with the flow, it will be adjusted.

Complications Associated with Intravenous Fluid Regulation

There are a few minor risks associated with receiving intravenous fluids. These include infection at the needle site, a dislodged needle, or a collapsed vein. All of these are easily corrected or treated. A dislodged needle can be avoided by staying very still during fluid administration. A collapsed vein is more likely to occur if a patient needs to have a needle inserted for an extended period of time.

Complications related to the regulation of administered fluids include giving too much fluid too rapidly, called overload. Alternately, not enough fluid or fluid released too slowly can occur.

Overload can cause symptoms such as a headache, high blood pressure, anxiety, and trouble breathing. Some overload can be tolerated by healthy patients, but in those with other health problems, it can be dangerous.

The symptoms of a low flow rate may vary depending on the patient and the reason for having fluids administered. Mostly, a patient not getting enough fluids will simply not respond to treatment in the way that is expected. 

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