What Is Infusion Therapy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Medicine is administered directly to the bloodstream or muscle during infusion therapy.
Medicine is administered directly to the bloodstream or muscle during infusion therapy.

Infusion therapy is a type of medical treatment in which medication is delivered directly into the body via a blood vessel, the spinal cord, or a muscle. This type of therapy is used when treating a condition with oral medication is not an option for a variety of reasons, ranging from swallowing disorders to the use of medications that would be destroyed in the stomach and must therefore be delivered directly. It can be used to treat a number of different conditions.

Infusion therapy is often used when a patient's stomach would break down the required medicine.
Infusion therapy is often used when a patient's stomach would break down the required medicine.

Medications, such as antibiotics, antivirals, and cancer drugs can be delivered through infusion therapy. This type of therapy is also used in pain management, with patients receiving pain relief through an infusion pump. In cases where patients need more fluids, this method can be used for hydration, as is done after surgery for many patients, and infusions can also be used to deliver nutrition to a patient who cannot or will not eat.

Infusion pumps have a programmable user interface that can be used to schedule dosages and control the size of each dosage.
Infusion pumps have a programmable user interface that can be used to schedule dosages and control the size of each dosage.

Historically, this type of treatment took place on an inpatient basis, with the patient staying in the hospital and being monitored during the course of the treatment. More commonly today, it is offered as an outpatient procedure. The patient can visit a clinic for treatments and leave when finished, giving patients more flexibility in their care, in addition to cutting down on costs.

Chemotherapy administered intravenously is a form of infusion therapy.
Chemotherapy administered intravenously is a form of infusion therapy.

It may also be possible for people to receive this type of therapy at home. Chronic pain sufferers, for example, can wear portable infusion pumps to deliver their medications so that they can experience less pain, which will allow them to engage in more activities. Infusion therapy can also be used in the management and treatment of disease at home when moving a patient may not be advisable. A child, for example, might be traumatized by the hospital, making it more sensible to have an infusion team come to the home to deliver treatments as needed.

Infusion therapy usually takes place on an inpatient basis so the patient can be monitored closely.
Infusion therapy usually takes place on an inpatient basis so the patient can be monitored closely.

Infusion teams typically include a doctor who writes a prescription and develops a schedule for infusions, and infusion therapy nurses who actually perform the treatments and monitor the patients while treatment is ongoing. These nursing professionals are highly trained in therapy standards, and they are skilled at everything from cleaning out ports installed for frequent infusions to keeping children calm during infusions. Specialists in home treatments may be able to obtain excellent compensation for their services, as offering this type of therapy at home carries some unique challenges.

What Is Infusion Therapy Used To Treat?

Infusion therapy can successfully treat many different conditions. Doctors administer a variety of liquid medications through this type of procedure. Medical professionals worldwide use it as an easy and effective way to deliver medicine to a patient.

Doctors usually try to treat most ailments in other ways first, such as oral pills or injections, since these are less invasive options. However, if those methods prove unsuccessful, infusion therapy may benefit the patient. Some conditions that might require this type of therapy are:

  • Dehydration – Patients can become dehydrated due to a stomach virus, overexertion, heat stroke or gastrointestinal disorders. When a person needs fluids, administering an IV is the fastest way to get them rehydrated. Patients with chronic conditions or long-term dehydration from chemotherapy benefit from continuous infusion therapy to stay hydrated.
  • Multiple sclerosis – This autoimmune condition attacks the patients' nerves, causing pain, dizziness, numbness and vision disturbances. Sometimes these symptoms come in debilitating waves. Instead of waiting for oral medication to ease the discomfort, infusion therapy administers corticosteroids into the bloodstream, helping the patient feel better.
  • Diabetes – Some people have difficulty managing their diabetes or self-administer multiple insulin injections each day. Infusion therapy might be helpful because a specialized piece of equipment monitors their blood sugar and administers insulin as needed.
  • Infections – Most infections go away with oral antibiotics, but occasionally, a person may contract a bug that doesn't' respond to traditional treatment. A patient could then be at risk for sepsis. Doctors can administer high levels of concentrated antibiotics through infusion therapy to kill off the bacteria before the patient gets worse.
  • Childbirth – While medication is not required to deliver a child, many mothers turn to modern medicine to make the process less painful. Patients may receive two different types of infusion therapy during childbirth. First, a doctor or nurse could place an IV in the mother’s hand to make it easy to administer hydrating fluids, Pitocin or antibiotics. Additionally, if the mother wants an epidural to eliminate pain, a catheter placed in her spine delivers heavy doses of numbing medication.

Is Chemotherapy and Infusion Therapy the Same Thing?

Chemotherapy and infusion therapy are not the same thing. Infusion therapy is a way to administer medication and hydration directly into the body, while chemotherapy is a specific combination of drugs used to treat cancer. While infusion therapy is often one method of administering chemotherapy, the treatment is available in other forms, too.

Some other common ways to administer chemotherapy are:

  • Subcutaneously
  • A needle injection into the muscle
  • Into a specific body cavity
  • Injected into an organ
  • Into the spinal fluid
  • Oral medication

How Is Infusion Therapy Administered?

Infusion therapy uses a needle to place a tiny catheter into the patient’s vein. The vein may be on the top of the hand, ankle, or inside the forearm. Doctors could also surgically place the catheter as needed. The tube connects to a bottle or bag filled with medication or other fluids, which drips from the bag into the line and then your bloodstream.

Is Infusion Therapy Painful?

Placing the catheter might feel uncomfortable as the needle punctures the skin, but there shouldn't be any pain once the nurse inserts the tube. Sometimes when medication is cold or flows rapidly, the patient may feel the solution entering their body. While this shouldn’t be uncomfortable, it can be unpleasant for some people.

If a doctor must place a catheter directly into the spine or the chest, they numb the area with a local anesthetic before beginning the procedure.

What Are the Side Effects of Infusion Therapy?

There may be side effects to infusion therapy, as with any medical procedure. One common consequence of the needle or catheter insertion is bruising. Both inserting and removing the tube can cause a small amount of blood to leak out of the vein and create a bruise.

Other side effects include rashes, dry skin or hives. Patients might be allergic to the materials used in the tubes or the medication and could experience severe reactions such as difficulty breathing, nausea or fever.

How Much Does Infusion Therapy Cost?

Since there are a variety of ailments that benefit from this treatment, the cost varies considerably based on the medication required by the patient. Insurance companies may pay a portion of the expense depending on the policy holder’s coverage.

Patients can have infusion therapy done both at home and in the hospital. Getting infusion therapy in the hospital costs more than home care, but not all options are available to each patient.

Mary McMahon
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.

Mary McMahon
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.

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Discussion Comments

anon314007

I get remicade for infusion therapy (Crohn's disease) and I am fine with it. No pain, just a little pinch, sleep for two hours, read for an hour, watch tv and the whole nine yards and that's it. If you're just going into infusion therapy, don't sweat it. It will be fine. Just keep yourself busy is what I recommend.

anon296415

Is stem cell therapy considered infusion therapy?

anon104427

I have Iron Iv's and have for a couple of years now. I have severe anemia and this is the only way its gets into my body. You do have to do it in the hospital and your doctor needs to prescribe it.

Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes the body reacts to the dose in a not so good way.

pharmchick78

@Planch -- You're right, iron infusion therapy is for anemia.

It is a form of parenteral iron repletion therapy, for those with iron deficiency or anemia caused by iron deficiency.

Before, iron therapy was primarily administered orally, through a pill. However, some people cannot absorb the iron properly because of gastrointestinal problems, or because the rate at which they lose iron is so rapid.

Thus, parenteral iron therapy was introduced in the form of injections, and later in the form of infusion therapy.

Iron infusion therapy is popular because the entire dose or iron is administered at once, making it more convenient and cost effective than traditional iron repletion methods.

Planch

I recently read about something called iron infusion therapy, apparently for anemia?

Has anyone had this or know anything about it?

rallenwriter

A subset of infusion therapy is IV infusion therapy, which is what I think people are the most familiar with.

IV, or intravenous, infusion therapy refers specifically to infusions into a blood vessel or vein, and is pretty commonly used in hospitals for fluids, pain management, even blood transfusion.

Although it's been around for a while, IV therapy is still widely used because of its effectiveness and the relatively low risk of complications.

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    • Medicine is administered directly to the bloodstream or muscle during infusion therapy.
      By: twobee
      Medicine is administered directly to the bloodstream or muscle during infusion therapy.
    • Infusion therapy is often used when a patient's stomach would break down the required medicine.
      By: Gina Sanders
      Infusion therapy is often used when a patient's stomach would break down the required medicine.
    • Infusion pumps have a programmable user interface that can be used to schedule dosages and control the size of each dosage.
      By: Max Tactic
      Infusion pumps have a programmable user interface that can be used to schedule dosages and control the size of each dosage.
    • Chemotherapy administered intravenously is a form of infusion therapy.
      By: nebari
      Chemotherapy administered intravenously is a form of infusion therapy.
    • Infusion therapy usually takes place on an inpatient basis so the patient can be monitored closely.
      By: Trish23
      Infusion therapy usually takes place on an inpatient basis so the patient can be monitored closely.