What Is Infusion Therapy and When Is It Needed?

by | Infusion Therapy

Infusion therapy is when you receive medication through a needle or catheter. Some drugs can’t be taken orally because they lose their effectiveness when exposed to your digestive system. Infusion therapy is used when there’s no comparable oral therapy or when you can’t take oral medication.

Infusion therapy is when medication or fluids are administered through a needle or catheter. It’s a way of delivering medication that can’t be taken orally, or that need to be dispensed at a controlled pace.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what infusion therapy is, how it works, and the types of conditions it can treat.

What exactly is infusion therapy?

Infusion therapy is when you receive medication through a needle or catheter, usually intravenously (IV). Other types of infusion therapy include:

  • epidural
  • intramuscular
  • subcutaneous

Some drugs can’t be taken orally because they lose their effectiveness when exposed to your digestive system. Infusion therapy is an alternative when there’s no comparable oral therapy or when you’re unable to take oral medication.

If you’ve ever spent time in a hospital, you probably had an IV to make sure you stayed hydrated and to have other medications delivered quickly, if needed. That’s a type of infusion therapy. So is an insulin pump that releases insulin just under your skin.

Infusion therapy can also be used to deliver nutrition, as well as many types of medications, including:

  • antibiotics
  • antiemetics
  • antifungals
  • antivirals
  • biologics
  • blood factors
  • chemotherapy
  • corticosteroids
  • growth hormones
  • immunoglobulin replacement
  • immunotherapy
  • inotropic heart medications

Infusion therapy is also often used because it allows for controlled dosing. Some types of chemotherapy, for example, need to be dripped slowly into the bloodstream. Other drugs need to reach the bloodstream quickly in life-and-death situations such as:

  • anaphylactic shock
  • heart attack
  • poisoning
  • stroke

What types of conditions is it used for?

Chemotherapy is a common treatment for many types of cancer. While some chemotherapies are given orally, many must be administered through an IV. In some cases, chemotherapy drugs are injected into the spine or to a specific part of the body.

Infusion therapy allows for the delivery of chemotherapy drugs directly into your bloodstream. It also enables you to receive anti-nausea and other medications without the need for more needles.

Infusion therapy isn’t just for cancer, though. It’s also used in the treatment of:

  • autoimmune disorders
  • congestive heart failure
  • dehydration
  • immune deficiencies
  • infections that are unresponsive to oral antibiotics
  • pain

It can deliver powerful medications for conditions such as:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • lupus
  • psoriasis
  • psoriatic arthritis
  • rheumatoid arthritis

It can also deliver medications for a wide variety of conditions. Here are just a few:

  • blood clotting factors for hemophilia
  • immunoglobulin replacement therapy for hypergammaglobulinemia
  • a “cocktail” of medications for migraine
  • corticosteroids and other medications for multiple sclerosis
  • platelet-rich plasma for osteoarthritis
  • bisphosphonates for osteoporosis
  • insulin for type 1 diabetes
  • hypercoagulation disorders that can cause blood clots
  • severe infections such as cellulitis, pneumonia, and sepsis

What can you expect?

IV infusion therapy typically takes place in a clinical setting, such as a doctor’s office, hospital, outpatient facility, or infusion center. Some types of infusion therapy can be given by healthcare providers in the home.

Each IV session means new needle sticks. So, if you’re expected to need multiple IV therapy sessions, your doctor may recommend alternatives to a standard IV line. Central lines can be inserted into your chest, arm, neck, or groin and remain for an extended time.

Another alternative is to have a port surgically implanted under your skin. In future treatments, the needle can be inserted into the port to access the vein without sticking you. The port will be surgically removed after you’ve completed all your treatments.

Whatever the setting, IV therapy is administered by nurses or other trained medical professionals. The procedure requires careful monitoring, so if the process is going to take more than a few minutes, there is usually some sort of control mechanism attached to the line to ensure proper delivery. Frequent or remote monitoring always accompanies infusion therapy.

Depending on the medication, it may be pre-prepared or prepared just prior to use.

If the infusion is expected to take several hours in an outpatient setting, you’ll typically be offered a reclining chair. You can bring reading materials, blankets, or other items to help you feel comfortable.

Before beginning, your nurse will perform a series of checks to verify:

  • your identity
  • the right medication and the right dose
  • the right time, as some medications are given at a specific time of day or for a specific length of time
  • the right route, such as vein, injection, or port

A needle will be inserted into the port or a suitable vein, usually in the arm. A tube will connect it to an IV bag holding the medication. The bag will be hung so that the solution drips into your bloodstream. Depending on your particular treatment, you may need multiple IV bags.

The length of each treatment depends on the medication and your specific condition. It could take 30 minutes or several hours.

You’ll typically receive plenty of fluids, so don’t be surprised if you need to use the bathroom. You’ll be able to bring the IV pole with you, but be sure to tell those monitoring you first.

Once the medication dispenses, the catheter will be removed.

Are there any risks involved with infusion therapy?

Insertion of an IV needle often goes smoothly, but it can be challenging, especially if you have small veins.

If you need to have many infusions, it can cause scar tissue to form over time, which may cause damage to your veins. Risks of IV therapy can include:

  • collapsed veins
  • infection
  • phlebitis
  • air embolism

Sometimes, a needle can become dislodged, allowing the medication to get into surrounding tissues. With some medications, this can be harmful.

Other risks depend on the type of medications you’re receiving. Any new medication can cause your body to react strongly. If you’re going to have a reaction, it typically happens the first time you get a particular treatment.

Your doctor will explain the potential risks of your therapy and signs to watch for. The signs of infusion reaction typically include:

  • cough
  • facial flushing
  • fever, chills
  • headache
  • itching
  • muscle or joint pain and stiffness
  • nausea
  • rash or hives
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of hands, legs, ankles, or feet
  • swelling of the tongue, lips, or eyelids

Before starting infusion therapy, let your doctor know about all the medications you’re taking as well as dietary and herbal supplements, as these can interact.




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