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What is an Intravenous Bag?

By Kelly Ferguson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An intravenous (IV) bag is a sterile bag used to hold fluids that are administered to a patient intravenously, or in the veins, in a practice known as intravenous therapy. These fluids can be anything from mixtures of medicines, to blood for a blood transfusion, to saline for hydration. Delivering medicines or fluids intravenously ensures that the medicines or fluids being administered are distributed throughout the patient’s body in the fastest way possible, via the bloodstream. IV therapy using an intravenous bag is often called an IV “drip,” to avoid being confused with an IV bolus, also called an IV “push,” which is an injection from a syringe directly into the vein, through an IV cannula, or through an injection port on the bag.

Commonly, intravenous bags are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or other plastics. Some intravenous bag manufacturers offer non-PVC versions for consumers worried about contamination from chemicals used in making the vinyl. Intravenous bags are often labeled with measurements to gauge how much fluid is inside. When purchased premixed from a manufacturer, an intravenous bag will also have a label that details the contents of the bag. They come in various sizes to accommodate dosage needs and the varying viscosity of the fluids being administered.

In addition to being sterile, many intravenous bags are disposable. Throwing away the intravenous bag after it has been used prevents several possible problems, including contaminating future fluids with remnants of previous ones. In a hospital, a reused intravenous bag would be prepared in a clean room and filled with a syringe to avoid contamination. Brand new sterile bags and other equipment, however, may reduce the risk of infection from improper sterilization.

An intravenous bag by itself only holds fluids, and requires several other accessories to function effectively as a method of administering the fluids. Typically, the bags are designed to be hung from a stand or pole to keep the bag elevated above the patient’s heart, which controls the rate at which gravity causes the fluid to drip. Warmers may be needed to bring the fluid up to body temperature before it is given to the patient. Valves or clamps control how much fluid is released at one time, and tubing carries the fluid to the patient, then into the vein through a needle or cannula. Drip chambers ensure that no air bubbles are allowed to enter the veins.

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Discussion Comments
By ElizaBennett — On Sep 07, 2011

I think I saw your post on another question - you wound up with a C-section, didn't you? I actually had a scheduled C-section with my first because I had placenta previa. Although I've always wanted a natural, home birth, I went to the hospital for my second child because I felt like that was safer for a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean). Partly because of my previous section, they wanted me to have a hep lock. This is basically a needle in your hand with no IV tubing attached to it.

With a hep lock, they have immediate access should you need an IV quickly, but you don't have to be hooked up to it all the time.

Now that I've had one VBAC, the nurse-midwives in my area will take me at the birth center if and when there is a baby #3. They might even let me deliver at home! Good luck to you with your next baby.

By dfoster85 — On Sep 06, 2011

I was hooked up to an IV when I was in labor, as soon as I arrived at the hospital, but since then I've learned that it's not necessary for healthy women. I wish I had known that before, because I really hated being hooked up to it; it made it harder to move around and it made me feel like such a patient, if that makes sense.

I didn't even know to expect the IV, so I didn't know to say no to it! (My doctor probably wouldn't have "let" me say no, so that's something else I'll do differently in the future.)

Apparently, the excess fluids can actually slow down your labor. Most women are perfectly capable of drinking fluids during labor and then getting up to go to the bathroom.

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