An intravenous (IV) infusion is the administration of liquid medications, rehydration solutions (such as electrolytes), or nutrients through a vein. In cases of hydration and nutrients, an IV infusion is delivered when the patient has difficulty swallowing or cannot consume food or water by mouth. Long-term, it can be used as nutritional therapy, providing protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins.
The procedure can be performed by a registered nurse, who will insert the IV catheter into one of the patient’s veins using a slender needle. An IV line runs from the catheter to a bag containing the prescribed fluids. Once the IV is inserted, the fluids travel from the bag, through the line, and into the patient’s vein. The flow of the liquids is regulated manually or by an electric pump, to ensure the correct rate of flow and delivery. Medical staff also check the flow and delivery regularly.
If the patient does not get enough nutrients from a traditional IV, a special feeding tube, called a jejunum, may be inserted directly into the small intestine through the skin of the abdomen, bypassing the stomach. This treatment (jejunostomy) is performed using an endoscope – a long, flexile tube equipped with a camera and light, that is inserted into the esophagus, then through to the stomach, and into the top of the small intestine. Using the camera as a guide, the gastroenterologist can pass tiny instruments through the tube and use them to insert the feeding tube.
In most cases, an IV infusion requires no preparation. An endoscopic jejunostomy, however, will require sedation so the patient will have to fast for at least eight hours beforehand and have a ride home. The procedure may require a hospital stay for observation (the gastroenterologist will advise). If the procedure is performed surgically, it will be done under general anesthesia and recovery will require a longer hospital stay. Afterward, the patient will need to keep the area around the tube clean and free from infection. The patient also will be shown how to change the dressing.