The human body is in many ways a delicate organism that is susceptible to a variety of different medical problems. Because of this, doctors have to rely on a similarly varied set of treatment options in order to promote healing. Sometimes, certain complex diseases create a situation where the patient can’t eat or ingest medication orally. In some of these situations, doctors use a method of treatment called infusion therapy.
What is Infusion Therapy?
In the simplest terms, infusion therapy involves the introduction of medication through non-oral means. This traditionally has been equated with intravenous therapy, but it can also mean subcutaneous infusion, which refers to an injection of medicine directly below the surface of the skin. The main goal of infusion therapy is to cause the medication to permeate the whole body or a particular area of the body at a desired absorption rate. In fact, the rate of absorption is often a key factor in the choice of treatment; intravenous infusion treatment allows very quick absorption compared to the slower subcutaneous method or the even slower oral method.
Generally speaking, the term infusion therapy refers to intravenous infusion. In the past, this type of treatment could only be done in a hospital and for a limited set of reasons. In recent years, however, technological and medical advancements have made it less expensive and easier to implement in either an inpatient setting or an outpatient setting. Hospitals still use infusion therapy, of course, but there are also clinics and infusion therapy centers now available to provide the treatment. It’s even possible to get infusion therapy in certain circumstances from licensed healthcare professionals in one’s own home.
Because infusion therapy is such a broad concept in healthcare, there are many different use cases for it. Below are some common examples of why infusion therapy might be utilized:
- Infection: Some bacterial infections have developed a resistance to oral antibiotics, so infusion therapy can be used to administer antibiotics intravenously instead, and the fact that it goes directly into the bloodstream makes it more effective. Infusion therapy can also be used for viral and fungal infections.
- Chemotherapy: In part because of depictions in movies and television, chemotherapy is one of the best known versions of infusion therapy. Doctors prescribe chemo for cancer patients because it allows specially designed medications to permeate the body and ideally inhibit the kind of cellular mitosis that causes cancer cells to spread.
- Hydration: In extreme cases of dehydration, infusion therapy is used to replenish water and electrolyte loss. Because of the advent of cheaper technology, IV infusion therapy has now started to be used for palliative reasons like helping athletes or even to ease the discomfort from a hangover.
- Pain Medication: Another well-known use for infusion therapy is pain mitigation. Mostly used in hospitals in post-op scenarios, pain medication injected directly into the bloodstream works more quickly and has a more potent effect. Another classic example of this is the epidurals (meaning the catheter is placed near the spinal cord) given to pregnant women during childbirth.
- Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIg): Used to treat various immune system and infectious diseases, IVIg is a type of infusion therapy that relies on antibodies drawn from the blood plasma of donors. When used as an infusion treatment, the antibodies can bolster a person’s immune system and help them fight off disease.
How Does Infusion Therapy Work?
Infusion therapy is most often done intravenously through either a hypodermic needle or a catheter. There are various types of catheters, but those used for infusion therapy involve a small tube that is thin enough to fit inside the diameter of a vein. By carefully placing an IV catheter or needle inside a vein, the doctor is able to administer treatment directly into the patient’s bloodstream. As noted earlier, this is the fastest way for a medication to be absorbed by the body. Oral medication, by contrast, has to travel through part of the digestive tract and be broken down before it can be absorbed.
Once a doctor or nurse inserts the catheter into a vein (in an arm, for instance), the tube is taped in place to prevent injury to the vein or skin. In most cases, a full dose of medication is not injected all at once. Instead, an IV pump is utilized to control the quantity of medication that is entering the bloodstream. Prior to the advent of the IV pump, it was time-consuming and impractical for healthcare workers to be able to administer treatments gradually. With an IV pump, medication levels can be set and administered automatically.
What is Infusion Therapy Used to Treat?
The fundamental goal of infusion therapy is to administer a treatment directly and in a controlled way. Because of this, there are a wide variety of conditions that may benefit from it. Below are some common examples of the kinds of medical conditions infusion therapy is used to treat:
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Immune deficiencies
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
Usually infusion therapy is used for these serious or chronic conditions either because the patient is unresponsive to oral medications or because the patient is otherwise unable to eat or drink normally (this is referred to as parenteral nutrition).
Infusion therapy has become a widely used treatment by healthcare professionals across many medical fields, including gastroenterology. At Cary Gastro, we offer infusion therapy to treat iron deficiency anemia as well as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In our infusion center, medications like Remicade, Entyvio, and Stelara are effective at treating IBD while Injectafer is effective at treating anemia. If you would like to learn more about infusion therapy, contact us to request an appointment.