Intravenous Rehydration

Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on June 20, 2013

Intravenous Rehydration Introduction

Intravenous (IV) rehydration is a treatment that is used for moderate to severe cases of dehydration. Adults rarely require IV treatment for dehydration. Children, however, are much more likely to get dangerously dehydrated from being ill. IV treatment is often necessary.

Undergoing IV rehydration requires sitting still for a period of time, which is not always easy for children. A few small risks are associated with the treatment. These include infection or collapsed veins. But the benefits of rehydration outweigh them, especially when the dehydration is life-threatening.

What Is Intravenous Rehydration?

IV rehydration is a treatment that involves injecting fluids into the veins. The fluid solutions may be different depending on the situation, but are usually water with a little bit of salt or sugar added. The solution is kept in a bag that is raised up over the patient’s head. The bag is attached to a tube with a needle on the end. The needle goes into a vein in the arm and the amount of fluid that goes into the vein is controlled.

Purpose of Intravenous Rehydration

IV rehydration is a treatment that is used for cases of dehydration. When a person becomes dehydrated, fluid including water and dissolved salts, called electrolytes, is lost from the body. For mild cases of dehydration, that loss can be restored by drinking water or electrolyte solutions, such as sports drinks.

For moderate or severe cases of dehydration, the body may not respond to attempts to rehydrate orally. A doctor, or emergency medical professionals, can decide whether IV rehydration is needed. Adults may become dehydrated from being sick or from exercising vigorously without drinking enough water.

Children often become dehydrated from being sick and having diarrhea, a fever, or vomiting. When a child is dehydrated, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible. Children are more quickly and more severely affected by dehydration than adults are. Children are more likely to need IV dehydration to restore fluid balance than adults.

What to Expect During Intravenous Rehydration

The type of fluid solution required is determined by a medical professional. It usually depends on a patient’s age, existing medical conditions, and severity of dehydration. The prepared package of solution is then hung next to the patient’s bed, and a nurse or doctor prepared them for injection of the fluids.

The area into which the IV catheter needle will be inserted is disinfected. The nurse or doctor then inserts the needle into a vein in the arm and tapes the needle to the skin to keep it in position. The insertion of the needle feels like a mild sting, but the pain quickly subsides.

The amount of fluid entering the vein may be regulated by a pump or via a manual adjusted valve attached to the tube. A nurse or doctor checks from time to time to be sure the rate of fluids is correct and that the site of the needle on the arm is not leaking or moving. The length of time for the treatment depends on the severity of the dehydration.

Risks Associated with Intravenous Rehydration

Risks associated with IV rehydration are low for most adults. There is a small risk of infection occurring at the site of the needle. In most cases, such infections can be treated easily.

Another possible risk is creating an imbalance of nutrients in your body if the fluid solution contains the wrong mix of electrolytes. Caregivers should be monitoring to determine if an imbalance or deficiency occurs. If it does, it can be corrected by stopping the fluid or by changing it to a different solution.

The needle at the insertion site may become dislodged, which can cause a condition called infiltration. This means that the fluids go into the tissues around the vein, rather than into the vein. Infiltration may cause a stinging sensation at the insertion site and a bruise. The needle can be reinserted and a warm compress used to reduce swelling. Keeping still during rehydration can help prevent dislodging. This is especially important in young children, who do not necessarily understand that they must be still.

When a needle needs to remain inserted for a long period of time, it can cause the vein to collapse. If this happens, the needle will be moved to a different vein, and a warm compress applied to the collapsed vein. 

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