Common Intravenous Fluids & Agents for Electrolyte Balance

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  • 0:00 Hydration
  • 1:44 IV Fluids
  • 5:15 Electrolyte Supplements
  • 6:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

This lesson discusses the details about hydrating agents that can be given intravenously and the administration of electrolytes. We'll take a look at the importance of water and electrolyte balance as well.


It has been well documented that our bodies are made mostly of water. In fact, we are made up of between 70% - 80% water. This is not by coincidence. We are composed of that much water because water is needed for every process that takes place in our bodies.

Water isn't the only key player in most processes in our bodies. Equally important are the electrolytes in our bodies. You have heard that word before. Electrolytes are the chemical ions necessary for body processes. The main electrolytes needed in the body are sodium, abbreviated as Na+, and potassium, abbreviated as K+. Other pertinent electrolytes include magnesium, phosphate, and chloride.

Both water and electrolytes are so important to the body that they must be maintained at certain levels, and they must be in balance with each other in order to carry out bodily functions. This balance between the amount of water and electrolytes in the body is called the water/electrolyte balance. The balance is usually maintained by the kidneys.

There are times that there is not enough water to allow the kidneys to do their job. When a person has lower than normal water levels in the body, we call this dehydration. Dehydration can cause many problems in the body largely due to the fact that the body starts to shut down without enough water. Having lower than normal water levels also throws off the body's water/electrolyte balance. That can be very dangerous and deadly if not corrected quickly and correctly. That is where you and other healthcare professionals come to the rescue.

IV Fluids

Now there are times when a person can just simply drink water or consume other fluids to correct mild cases of dehydration. This is even sometimes done in the hospital if the case is very mild, and other problems have not started as a result of dehydration. When it is a more serious case, or problems are happening in the body as a result of dehydration, then nurses or other healthcare professionals administer hydrating agents that contain water and electrolytes to restore the normal water/electrolyte balance through an intravenous line.

One hydrating agent is lactated ringers, abbreviated as LR, which is a solution of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium lactate, and calcium chloride. Lactated ringers are the preferred hydrating agent when a patient is dehydrated and has a mild case of acidosis. Because of the amount of potassium in the solution, it will rarely, if ever, be used for patients that have high blood potassium or conditions that could lead to high blood potassium. It is also not given to patients that are experiencing alkalosis.

Sometimes patients are dehydrated due to not eating or drinking. This not only throws off the water/electrolyte balance, but it also causes a drop in blood sugar levels. These patients will most likely receive 5% dextrose and water, also called D5W, which is a solution of 5% dextrose in water. Dextrose is a sugar that can be broken down into glucose, the sugar that is needed in the body. This will help with hydrating the patient and raising the blood sugar level. 5% dextrose is not normally given to patients that have diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease.

Normal saline is the hydrating agent used most often. It is a solution of water and 9.5g/L of sodium chloride. Patients that aren't able to receive the previous two agents are normally able to receive normal saline. There are some patients that need to be monitored more closely if they receive normal saline. These include patients with edema, congestive heart failure, and reduced kidney function. Normal saline can help to fully restore the water/electrolyte balance.

The reason why normal saline cannot be used for the conditions I just mentioned is mostly because of the amount of sodium contained in the solution. There is a better option for those patients, called half normal saline. This solution of 4.5 g/L of sodium chloride has less electrolytes in it than normal saline. It can help with patients that are dehydrated but still have close to normal electrolyte levels.

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