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What are Intravenous Antibiotics?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Intravenous (IV) antibiotics are antibiotic medications designed to be delivered directly into the bloodstream. They are an alternative to oral antibiotics taken by mouth and topical antibiotics applied directly to the site where an infection is located. Drug companies that make antibiotics usually offer a range of products for intravenous use. These medications are available by prescription only and must be administered under the supervision of a doctor.

Antibiotics are a class of drug designed to work against bacteria. They can either actively kill bacteria to stop an infection or they can interfere with bacterial reproduction, making it difficult for an infection to spread. As generations of the organisms die, the infection is gradually brought under control. Some drugs are broad spectrum and will work against many different organisms, while others target particular bacteria and are not suitable for generic use.

Delivering antibiotics intravenously means that the drugs act quickly, which can be critical in an emergency situation. When drugs are introduced directly into the bloodstream, they will travel rapidly to the site of an infection and immediately begin working. By contrast, drugs taken by mouth must be absorbed through the gut before they can start attacking an infection. For people with severe infections, intravenous antibiotics may be used because they will take effect quickly.

People are commonly given intravenous antibiotics through an intravenous catheter connected to an infusion pump. The medications can be injected directly into the catheter, or injected into a bag of sterile saline solution for a slow infusion into the bloodstream. The delivery method depends on the patient and the medication in question. Some drugs need to be delivered slowly due to concerns about side effects.

Before prescribing intravenous antibiotics, a doctor conducts an exam to confirm that an infection is the problem, and samples may be taken with the goal of finding out which bacterial organisms are present. This information is used to select an appropriate medication for the patient. Dosage is calculated on the basis of patient weight to ensure that the patient gets enough medication to tackle the infection without being given too much.

Although intravenous antibiotics are often given in a hospital setting to patients with infections that require skilled nursing care, they can also be administered at home or in long-term care facilities. For home administration, patients must be trained in giving intravenous injections or managing an intravenous line. Following directions, they can draw up needed medication and administer it. A home care nurse can also take care of medication administration for such patients.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon995500 — On May 05, 2016

Can intravenous antibiotics be taken on an ocean going private yacht?

By anon329497 — On Apr 10, 2013

Can I take these intravenous drugs if I have a bladder problem and am I able to go and buy them at a pharmacy without a prescription?

By anon242546 — On Jan 24, 2012

I'm taking this, but less than the prescribed four times. Is this dangerous?

By anon197045 — On Jul 16, 2011

I have to go back and forth to the hospital to get IV antibiotics for mastitis (breast infection) from breastfeeding. I had a fever when I was admitted so I guess that's what made it emergency. My problem is they send me home every night with the catheter still in my arm and it bothers me. I just had to take it out myself.

By jessica500 — On Apr 17, 2011

I once had a serious case of cellulitis that had to be treated with IV antibiotics. My skin was cracked, red, and throbbing on my arm. I had an overall feeling of sickness, but was not tired. The doctor took a sample of my blood and said that I would have to be admitted to the hospital -- I was so freaked out! It was a lot less serious than I thought it would be though -- I was given IV antibiotics and sent home 5 days later. Still, that was enough hospital drama to last me for a lifetime!

By seekinfo2 — On Apr 14, 2011

What would be an example of a condition that would be treated with IV antibiotics? Is this kind of a go-to treatment for a lot of conditions, or is it only used for very serious infections? I would love to learn more about this -- can anybody clue me in?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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