An intravenous line (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 antecubital fossa (inside of the elbow), the volar forearm (the underside of the forearm), the large vein in the wrist just above the thumb, or a vein in the back of the hand. Using the hand runs the lowest risk of phlebitis, but a higher risk of rupturing the vein. Fluids cannot be run rapidly through a hand vein.
When is an IV used?
An IV may be used to: administer medicationhydrate a person who is unable to take in anything by mouthreplace fluids lost through vomiting, surgery, or injurygive blood transfusions or blood productsdraw 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 hospitalized, the nurse will check the IV site frequently 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 healthcare professional 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 healthcare professional orders home IV therapy, the the family will receive instruction on how to care for the IV prior to discharge. If the family is unable to care for the IV, the healthcare professional 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 healthcare professional immediately.
Illustrated Manual of Nursing Practice, 2nd Ed., 1994