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intravenous line

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Injecting a substance into the vein

Alternative Names
peripheral line, IV, intravenous catheter

An intravenous line, or IV, is a soft, flexible catheter that is inserted into a vein to deliver medication, fluids, or nutrition. It can also be used to remove blood for sampling. An IV is usually inserted into a vein in the lower arm or hand. IVs are most often used in the hospital, but can also be used in the home for short-term therapy. An IV is usually left in for just a few days, but may be kept in for a longer time.

What is the information for this topic?
When is an IV used?

An IV may be used to:
  • administer medication
  • hydrate a person who is unable to take in anything by mouth
  • replace fluids lost through vomiting, surgery, or injury
  • give blood transfusions or blood products
  • draw blood samples

How is an IV inserted?

Most IVs are placed in a vein in the forearm or hand. A strong rubber tube, called a tourniquet, is wrapped around the upper arm to enlarge the veins in the lower arm by restricting blood flow through them. The skin over the vein to be used is cleaned with an antiseptic. A catheter is inserted into the skin through a needle. The needle is removed, leaving only the plastic catheter in the vein. The catheter is attached to a piece of tubing and both are taped securely to the person's arm.

What care does an IV require?

While a person is hospitalised, the nurse will check the IV site off and on to make sure the catheter remains in the vein. If the IV is not delivering a continuous solution, the nurse will flush the catheter routinely to prevent it from clotting. Even with diligent care, an IV can become painful, irritated, or dislodged. If this occurs, the nurse will often remove the IV and place a new catheter into a different vein.

If a person needs short-term medication therapy, such as IV antibiotics, but is otherwise healthy, the doctor may send a person home with an IV. The IV site should be kept clean and dry. The family may be taught how to flush the catheter between medication doses. If the doctor orders home IV therapy, the nurse will instruct the family on how to care for the IV prior to discharging the person home. If the family is unable to care for the IV, the doctor may order home health nursing to manage this treatment.

What complications are associated with IVs?

Intravenous lines can cause inflammation of the vein and pain at the insertion site, or may become dislodged and leak fluid under the skin. IVs can also become clotted or may crack. Frequent monitoring of the IV helps to avoid these problems. Most of these complications require the removal of the IV catheter. If these problems occur in the home, the person should contact the doctor right away.

Author: Pam Rosenthal, RN, BSN, CCM
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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