What exactly is infusion therapy?
Infusion therapy is when you receive medication through a needle or catheter, generally intravenously (IV). Other kinds of infusion therapy include:
Some drugs can't be taken orally because they lose their effectiveness when exposed to your digestive system. Infusion therapy is an option when there's no comparable oral therapy or when you're unable to take oral medication.
If you've ever spent time in a hospital, you possibly had an IV to make sure you remained hydrated and to have other medications supplied quickly, if needed. That's a type of infusion therapy. So is an insulin pump that releases insulin just under your skin.
Infusion therapy can also be used to supply nutrition, along with several kinds of medications, including:
- blood factors
- growth hormones
- immunoglobulin replacement
- inotropic heart medications
Infusion therapy is also commonly used since it allows for controlled dosing. Some types of chemotherapy, for instance, have to be dripped slowly into the bloodstream. Other medications need to reach the bloodstream quickly in life-and-death situations such as:
- anaphylactic shock
- heart attack
What kinds of conditions is it used for?
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for many types of cancer. While some chemotherapies are given orally, several must be given through an IV. Sometimes, chemotherapy drugs are injected into the spine or to a certain part of the body.
Infusion therapy allows for the delivery of chemotherapy medications directly into your bloodstream. It also allows you to receive anti-nausea and other medications without the need for additional needles.
Infusion therapy isn't just for cancer, however. It's also used in the treatment of:
- autoimmune disorders
- congestive heart failure
- immune deficiencies
- infections that are unresponsive to oral antibiotics
It can deliver effective medicines for conditions such as:
- Crohn's disease
- ulcerative colitis
- psoriatic arthritis
- rheumatoid arthritis
It can also deliver medications for a wide variety of conditions. Here are just a few:
- blood clotting factors for hemophilia
- immunoglobulin replacement therapy for hypergammaglobulinemia
- a "cocktail" of medications for migraine
- corticosteroids and other medications for multiple sclerosis
- platelet-rich plasma for osteoarthritis
- bisphosphonates for osteoporosis
- insulin for type 1 diabetes
- hypercoagulation disorders that can cause blood clots
- serious infections such as cellulitis, pneumonia, and sepsis
What can you anticipate?
IV infusion therapy usually takes place in a clinical setting, such as a doctor's office, hospital, outpatient facility, or infusion center. Some types of infusion therapy can be supplied by healthcare providers in the home.
Each IV session means new needle sticks. So, if you're expected to need multiple IV therapy sessions, your doctor may suggest alternatives to a standard IV line. Central lines can be inserted into your chest, arm, neck, or groin and remain for an extended time.
Another alternative is to have a port surgically embedded under your skin. In future treatments, the needle can be inserted into the port to access the vein without sticking you. The port will be surgically removed after you've finished all your treatments.
Whatever the setting, IV therapy is conducted by nurses or other qualified medical professionals. The procedure requires careful surveillance, so if the process is going to take more than a few minutes, there is generally some kind of control mechanism attached to the line to ensure proper delivery. Frequent or remote monitoring always accompanies infusion therapy.
Depending on the medication, it may be pre-prepared or prepared just before use. A needle will be inserted into the port or a suitable vein, usually in the arm. A tube will attach it to an IV bag holding the medication. The bag will be hung to make sure that the solution drips into your bloodstream. Depending on your specific treatment, you might have more than one IV bag.
The length of each treatment depends on the medication and your specific condition. It might take 30 minutes or several hours.
You'll usually receive plenty of fluids, so don't be surprised if you need to go to the bathroom. You can bring the IV pole with you, but be sure to tell those monitoring you first.
When the medication dispenses, the catheter will be removed.
The bottom line
Infusion therapy is the administration of medication or fluids in a controlled method. It's done most often intravenously or subcutaneously.
Since the timing can be controlled, it's used to provide chemotherapy drugs and other medications that have to enter your system slowly. It can also be used to supply medications into your bloodstream quickly in the case of a life threatening emergency.
Infusion therapy is used to give numerous therapies for a wide range of conditions. It's usually administered by nurses or other qualified healthcare providers, generally in a clinical setting. Consult with your healthcare provider about the potential benefits and risks of infusion therapy, and what you can do to make it as safe and effective as possible.