Parenteral Medication | What Does Parenteral Mean?

Keta Bhakta, Zona Taylor
  • Author
    Keta Bhakta

    Keta Bhakta graduated from University of Minnesota with a B.S. in Neuroscience and then with a D.D.S. as a dentist. She has tutored many students in various math and science subjects. She began working as a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 2013.

  • Instructor
    Zona Taylor

    Zona has taught Nursing and has a master's degree in Nursing Education and Maternal-Infant Nursing from University of Maryland Baltimore.

What is parenteral medication? Learn the parenteral definition, meaning, and uses. See the parenteral therapy types and their parenteral route of administration. Updated: 07/28/2021

Table of Contents


Parenteral Definition

The term parenteral in medical terminology means beyond the intestine (par = beyond, enteral = intestines). Thus, parenteral in medicine means the input of drugs or medications into the human body in a way not involving the intestines or the digestive tract. Parenteral drugs are typically injected directly into the human body and have a systemic, wide effect on the body. Thus, topical drugs, although not taken by mouth involving the digestive tract, are not considered parenteral as their actions are typically only local. Some examples of parenteral drugs include epinephrine, insulin, and IV infusions.

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  • 0:04 What Is Parenteral?
  • 1:01 Types of Parenteral Routes
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Use of Parenteral Therapy

The administration of medications via parenteral therapy is very important in certain situations such as:

  • When a patient is unable to take medication orally: ie. a comatose patient
  • When a patient is unwilling to take medication orally: ie. a pediatric or geriatric patient
  • When fast action of the medication is needed: ie. epinephrine in an allergic patient upon exposure to a lethal allergen such as bee sting, seizure medication in a patient that is seizing
  • High and reliable therapeutic concentrations of medications are needed in the body: ie. chemotherapy drugs, drugs used to treat severe infections in the body such as SARS-CoV-2.

It is important to note the last point in the list above. The parenteral method of applying medications in the body bypasses the first-pass metabolism. The first-pass metabolism occurs when a medication is taken orally and absorbed by the digestive tract and metabolized by the liver. This first pass through the liver significantly reduces the amount of the drug that reaches the systemic circulation. This is in direct contrast to the parenteral method of injecting drugs such that almost all of the drug injected reaches the systemic circulation in high concentrations in order to successfully combat a serious infection or treat a serious medical condition.

Parenteral Route

Parenteral medications are typically injected in four different ways depending on the layer of the skin that is the target of administration of the drug. There are 4 different layers where parenteral medication can be injected: epidermis, venous, subcutaneous, and intramuscular.

4 ways to give parenteral medications

4 ways to give parenteral medications

Parenteral Injection

Parenteral therapy is used to inject liquid drugs directly into the bloodstream or surrounding tissues. A sterile syringe is used to collect medication from a clean medication bottle. The area of injection on a patient is cleaned with an alcohol swab and wiped with clean, dry gauze. Shortly after, the needle is injected into the clean area of the skin and the barrel of the syringe is pushed to insert the liquid medication into the skin. The needle is withdrawn and a bandaid is placed over the insertion site to stop any bleeding. This is called administering a bolus or single dose of medication at once via the parenteral route.

Alternatively, a needle can be left in the site (ie. IV route) and taped to the skin to allow infusions or continuous flow to medication to be given to the patient without the need for repetitive needle insertions. This is used to give continuous IV infusions or for patients staying in the hospital who will be needing multiple IV drug injections or blood draws for testing. This is also especially useful in patients whose veins may be difficult to find for the IV route of injection.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does parenteral administration of drugs mean?

The parenteral administration of drugs means to inject them into the body via ID, SubQ, IM, or IV routes in order to bypass the first pass metabolism in the liver.

Why medications are given parenterally?

Medications are given parenterally for many reasons including when a patient is unable or unwilling to take medications orally, to achieve higher concentration in the blood and to achieve faster action.

Which route is an example of parenteral administration?

There are four basic example of routes of parenteral administration such as intradermal, subcutaneous, intramuscular, and intravenous. Oral and topical are NOT parenteral routs of administration.

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