What is intravenous fluid regulation?

Intravenous fluid regulation is the control of the amount of fluid you receive intravenously, or through your bloodstream. The fluid is given from a bag connected to an intravenous line. This is a thin tube, often called an IV, that’s inserted into one of your veins.

Fluids are administered this way for various reasons, all of which require control of the amount given. Without control, the rate of fluid administration relies on gravity alone. This can result in receiving either too much or too little fluid.

The flow in an IV is regulated either manually or by using an electric pump. Regardless of how flow is regulated, nurses or medical caregivers must check IVs regularly to ensure both rate of flow and delivery of the correct dosage.

There are several reasons why you might need to have fluids administered intravenously. For instance, some treatments rely on IV delivery. These include:

  • rehydration after becoming dehydrated from illness or excessive activity
  • treatment of an infection using antibiotics
  • cancer treatment through chemotherapy drugs
  • management of pain using certain medications

Fluids for such treatments consist of water with electrolytes, sugar, or medications added in concentrations that depend on your need.

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

There are two ways to regulate the amount and rate of fluids given during intravenous therapy: manually and using an electric pump. Both methods require your nurse to check your IV regularly to be sure you’re getting the correct amount of fluid.

Manual regulation

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

Electric pump

The rate of flow in your IV can also be modulated with an electric pump. Your nurse programs the pump to deliver the desired amount of fluid into the IV at the correct rate.

A doctor must first determine the type of fluid you need for treatment, as well as the amount and the rate at which it’ll be delivered.

A nurse will then disinfect the skin over the injection site. This is often on your arm, but could be elsewhere on your body. The nurse locates a vein at the site and inserts an IV catheter into it. It’ll sting a little when it goes in, but after that there should be little or no pain.

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

A few minor risks are associated with receiving fluids intravenously. These include infection at the injection site, a dislodged IV catheter, or a collapsed vein. All of these are easily corrected or treated.

You can avoid dislodging your IV catheter by staying still or being careful not to pull on the tubing during fluid administration. A collapsed vein is more likely to occur if you need to have an IV catheter in place for an extended period of time.

Complications related to the regulation of fluids include giving too much fluid too rapidly, causing fluid overload. Alternatively, not enough fluid may be given or it’s released too slowly.

Overload can cause symptoms such as a headache, high blood pressure, anxiety, and trouble breathing. Some overload can be tolerated if you’re fairly health. But if you have other health problems, it can be dangerous.

The symptoms of a low flow rate may vary depending on the person and the reason for having fluids administered. Usually, if you’re not getting enough of the fluids you need, you simply won’t respond to treatment in the way that’s expected.

The administration of intravenous fluids via IV infusion is common and very safe. If you notice the flow seems to be going too fast or too slow, ask your nurse to check the flow rate. Alert them right away if you experience symptoms such as a headache or trouble breathing while receiving IV treatment.