Intravenous (IV) therapy is one of the most common procedures that we encounter in hospitals or see portrayed in medical-themed television. A hospital room almost isn’t complete without a drip bag sitting behind the door. But IV therapy is a relatively new medical procedure.

Development of IV Therapy

The idea behind IV treatment can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when experiments were being done involving blood transfusions between humans and animals. Eventually, poor results and a Vatican Decree banning animal-to-human transfusions stagnated progress in this field. Human-to-human transfusions happened during this time, but with little to no success. The first successful infusion device was made by Oxford scientist Christopher Wren. Using a quill and a pig’s bladder, he was able to pump outside substances into the bloodstream, but he found the device lacking in durability and difficult to secure1. It wasn’t until the 1830s that Dr. Thomas Latta discovered that injecting salty water into a patient’s bloodstream has a measurable impact on fighting cholera, which removes water from the bloodstream. He chose injection because drinking water and rectal delivery of saline solution both proved ineffective. He recorded several successful treatments, which were the target of the usual controversy that comes with new medical techniques. It was generally seen as a revolutionary treatment, but after the cholera outbreak subsided, was not widely used2. In 1834, Dr. James Blundell used blood transfusions on postpartum hemorrhages. He was the first to document the relationship between the speed of infusion and success. To this end, he created a medical device that regulated the speed of flow1. In the early 1900s, IV infusions were kept in an open container covered with gauze to prevent contamination. This was effective, but not full-proof. In the 1930s, a glass, vacuum-sealed bottle was used. In the 50s, when intravenous therapy started to be widely used, the old glass system was becoming too expensive and the burden often fell on the patients to pay higher fees. During this time there were no services to help patients with their payments and so the current plastic bag style was implemented as a cheaper alternative. Until the 40s, IVs were only implemented by Doctors, but in 1940, Massachusetts General Hospital allowed a nurse to administer IV therapy, a process nurses had previously only assisted with. Today, nurses are the primary providers of IV therapy.

Today’s Usage

Though its origins stem from blood transfusions, that is just a small scope of what IV therapy is used for. IV therapy is often used as an efficient way to hydrate patients and get them essential nutrients. This is especially useful for patients who can’t keep food or water down. In the 1960s, Dr. John Myers injected a “cocktail” of vitamins and minerals into patients with a wide range of conditions. After Myers death in 1984, author Allan Gaby was approached by many of Dr. Myers’ patients, who wanted to continue injections. The exact formula of the original Myers cocktail is not known, but Gaby knew the basic ingredients, though not exact amounts3. The modified Myers cocktail contains magnesium sulphate, B vitamins, calcium gluconate, selenium, and vitamin C. It is used to manage the symptoms of many conditions, including fibromyalgia, asthma, respiratory tract infections, seasonal allergies, cardiovascular disorders, and more. Many people get the Myers cocktail on a regular basis, as the symptoms return if the minerals and vitamins aren’t continually reintroduced to the body. IV therapy has gone the course from being an experimental treatment distrusted by the medical community to an everyday treatment that most medical professionals are trained in. It is used for both life-saving applications and preventative wellness. It is just one example of a treatment that has a multitude of applications and makes previously risky medical procedures safer. Though its origins stem from blood transfusions, that is just a small scope of what IV therapy is used for. IV therapy is often used as an efficient way to hydrate patients and get them essential nutrients. This is especially useful for patients who can’t keep food or water down.

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