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What is Intravenous Saline?

By Amanda Piontek
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Intravenous saline is a medical treatment that provides the body with a sterile solution of water and sodium chloride (NaCl), also known as salt. This solution is administered through a tube directly into the patient's vein using an injection needle. In fact, the term "intravenous" means "into a vein." Intravenous saline is commonly used to rehydrate the body in order to improve or restore body function.

The human body naturally contains a percentage of sodium, chloride and water. Dehydration and blood loss can cause a fluid imbalance within the body that needs to be corrected through an intravenous infusion. Medical saline in the proper NaCl-to-water ratio can be utilized to rehydrate and restore the body while maintaining the balance necessary to avoid disturbance of the body's cells.

The human body contains sodium chloride and water both inside and outside the body cells. A mixture known as "normal saline" is a solution of 0.9 percent sodium chloride and most frequently is used in intravenous saline therapy for rehydration. It is balanced with the natural salinity of the human body.

Sodium chloride attracts water. Fluid containing too great a percentage of salt is known as hypertonic solution, and it will draw water out of the cells of the body. This mixture can trigger dehydration, which — unless it is controlled — eventually will result in the patient's death. Likewise, a hypotonic solution of fluid containing too low a percentage of NaCl will attract water into the cells, causing them to swell. Both hypertonic and hypotonic solutions do have a place in medical therapy, depending on the patient's condition and electrolyte balance.

In order to administer intravenous saline, a medical professional must place specialized equipment that provides access to the patient's vein. Saline most commonly is administered through what is known as a peripheral cannula. The cannula, a small flexible tube, is connected to a hollow needle. This needle is inserted into any vein outside of the chest or abdominal area, commonly in the hand or the arm.

After the cannula is established, it can be connected with a tube to the intravenous bag or bottle of fluids. The flow of intravenous saline can be controlled with the use of an infusion pump or a gravity drip. The infusion pump is an electronic piece of equipment, and the gravity drip consists of an intravenous pole and a clamp. Hospitals might require a peripheral cannula to be changed at regular intervals in order to prevent inflammation and infection.

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Discussion Comments
By anon354387 — On Nov 07, 2013

This was an incredibly helpful page. Thank you!

By anon325356 — On Mar 15, 2013

@SailorJerry: I am a nurse. Women in labor should not drink or eat, since they are likely to vomit due to the amount of pain they will be in, the force of contractions (twisting, grinding and clamping down on her abdomen to expel the infant), and the exertion of pushing. If she were to eat or drink, she would be at risk for aspiration.

Another reason why oral intake of water isn't the best alternative is the fact that she will be losing electrolytes and blood during labor. Water alone won't replace these. Sterile saline, however, may have electrolytes easily added to it (a mixture tailored to fit her body's needs). Peripheral IVs are IV lines that sit in peripheral veins. Fluids are never infused through arteries.

Two other methods of delivering fluid to a body through intravenous means are the use of PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) lines and central lines, both of which are associated with higher risk of infection and long-term care (for example, those with TB who need long-term intravenous antibiotic therapy). These lines sit in larger veins (sublcavian, jugular and femoral). Your wife likely will not need any of these.

Modern medicine is truly a gift. Something as simple as IV rehydration therapy has saved lives (let alone the use of total parenteral nutrition--feeding your body directly through blood without the use of the GI system).

Ultimately, it is your wife's decision to make. She should know all of the facts first. Sterile equipment and clean technique gloves are utilized throughout the process. Her risk of infection is minimal with a peripheral IV.

By ElizaBennett — On Aug 02, 2011

@SailorJerry - According to the World Health Organization, a healthy woman in labor does not need intravenous fluid therapy. She is better off drinking water and juice and even eating if she wants to. (Some women don't, but juice gets some sugar in to keep their energy up.)

Routine use of IV fluids in labor is associated with the need for other interventions. Now, if your wife plans to have an epidural or other pain relief, she'll need IV fluids.

If she is not having medical pain relief, she does not need IV fluids. Some doctors will argue that they like to have an IV open in case some sort of emergency arises. These people will sometimes be satisfied if you offer to have a hep (heparin) lock, which is basically a needle in your hand that's not hooked up to anything. But even that is not really necessary for a healthy woman having a natural unmedicated delivery.

You and your wife should discuss your wishes with the doctor. If he won't respect them, that's a red flag that he might not be the practitioner for you.

By SailorJerry — On Aug 02, 2011

My wife's doctor has told us that he wants to hook her up to a saline IV when she enters the hospital in labor. But it sounds from the article like intravenous saline is used to rehydrate. Can't she just drink water?

IV saline sounds like a pretty serious medical treatment!

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