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What is an Intravenous Bolus?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An intravenous bolus is a rapid delivery of medication via an intravenous route. The time required to deliver a drug bolus can range from a few seconds to as much as 30 minutes, depending on the volume of medication being administered and other safety precautions. When a doctor writes a prescription for an intravenous bolus, the amount of the drug is specified along with the period of administration.

There are a number of reasons why a doctor might want to introduce a medication into a patient's system very quickly. One goal may be to rapidly achieve a peak level of the medication in the system, as seen in emergency situations. It may also be desirable to achieve quick results or because there is no other way to deliver the medication.

Some medications cannot be given in the form of an intravenous bolus. These drugs can be dangerous if they are introduced too rapidly or if their levels rise too high. Other medications must be introduced in dilute form and are unsuitable for boluses because of the high volume created by mixing the medication with saline solution or another diluent. For some patients, boluses can be dangerous, usually because their bodies are not able to process medication or fluids efficiently and the bolus could endanger their organs. People with edema, certain heart problems, or low urine output are examples of individuals who may not be suitable candidates for an intravenous bolus.

The medication can be delivered through an intravenous catheter or an intravenous injection. In both cases, the diameter of the needle is considered when calculating how long the bolus will take, as the medication can only move through the needle so quickly. The placement of the needle is checked before delivering the bolus to confirm that it is inserted properly.

Dosage calculators can be used to determine an appropriate dosage and length of time recommended for an intravenous bolus. Hospital safety procedures may require that certain medications have warning labels alerting people to the fact that they should not be administered in the form of boluses. Nurses and other providers are also alert to anything unusual in a prescription, such as a strange amount that might suggest that the caregiver transposed numbers or put a decimal point in the wrong place. Because boluses involve delivering high volumes of medication rapidly, it is especially critical to watch out for mistakes that could harm a patient, as they may not be identified until it is too late.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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 The Health Board 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 Oceana — On Oct 11, 2011

While my grandfather was hospitalized for gallbladder problems, he went into cardiac arrest. The nurses had to give him an intravenous bolus of adrenaline.

They did it to restart his heart, which had actually stopped. I remember them administering it to him a few times, each dose being higher than the last, until his heart started to beat again.

Generally, situations that require an intravenous bolus are life threatening. To need medicine that quickly, you have to be in bad shape. We really thought we were about to lose my grandfather, and without the adrenaline shot, we very well could have.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 10, 2011

My dog received an intravenous bolus after an allergic reaction to a bee sting. I was afraid her throat was going to swell shut!

It’s not normal for an outside dog to have such a reaction, but within minutes of being stung, her lips and cheeks started to swell. I tried giving her an antihistamine, but it didn’t help at all.

When it became clear that the swelling wasn’t going to stop and her breathing became raspy, we rushed her to the vet. She got an injection of steroids that stopped the swelling.

Our vet gave us an additional syringe filled with steroids just in case this should happen again sometime. I feel better having it around the house in case of an emergency.

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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