Wednesday, May 29, 2024

EMS Medication Administration - IV Solutions Part Two

EMS Providers must understand the different properties, uses, and potential complications associated with isotonic, hypertonic, and hypotonic solutions to provide optimal care in various clinical scenarios. 

Here’s a breakdown with examples, advantages, and disadvantages for each type of solution:

Isotonic Solutions

An isotonic solution has the same concentration of solutes (e.g sodium) as blood plasma, preventing significant fluid shifts between compartments. 

It stays in the bloodstream, increasing intravascular volume. 


  • Normal Saline (0.9% Sodium Chloride)
  • Lactated Ringer’s Solution (LR)
  • D5W (5% Dextrose in Water) - initially isotonic, but becomes hypotonic once dextrose is metabolized.


  • Volume Expansion: Effective for increasing intravascular volume without causing significant fluid shifts between compartments.
  • Versatility: Can be used in a wide range of conditions including dehydration, shock, and blood loss.
  • Compatibility: Generally well-tolerated and compatible with most medications and other IV fluids.


  • Risk of Fluid Overload: Can cause or exacerbate conditions like pulmonary edema or heart failure in patients with compromised cardiac function.
  • Electrolyte Imbalances: Long-term use can lead to imbalances, particularly with Normal Saline, which may cause hyperchloremic acidosis.

Hypertonic Solutions

A hypertonic solution has a higher concentration of solutes (e.g., sodium) than blood plasma, causing water to move out of cells into the bloodstream. 

This helps increase intravascular volume and reduce swelling. 


  • 3% Sodium Chloride
  • D5NS (5% Dextrose in Normal Saline)
  • D10W (10% Dextrose in Water)


  • Rapid Volume Expansion: Quickly draws fluid into the intravascular space from the interstitial and intracellular compartments, useful in cases of severe hyponatremia or cerebral edema.
  • Elevating Blood Pressure: Helps increase blood pressure more rapidly in hypovolemic patients.


  • Cellular Dehydration: Can cause cells to shrink due to osmotic fluid shifts, potentially leading to dehydration at the cellular level.
  • Vascular Irritation: High osmolarity solutions can irritate veins, potentially causing phlebitis or damage to blood vessels.
  • Risk of Hypernatremia: Overuse can lead to elevated sodium levels and associated complications.

Hypotonic Solutions

A hypotonic solution has a lower concentration of solutes (e.g., sodium) than blood plasma, causing water to move into cells. 

This helps hydrate cells and lower serum sodium levels.


  • 0.45% Sodium Chloride (Half Normal Saline)
  • 0.33% Sodium Chloride
  • D5W (after metabolism of dextrose)


  • Hydration of Cells: Helps hydrate cells and correct intracellular dehydration, useful in conditions such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS).
  • Reduction of Serum Osmolality: Lowers serum osmolality, aiding in the correction of hypernatremia.


  • Risk of Hyponatremia: Excessive administration can dilute plasma sodium levels, leading to hyponatremia.
  • Cerebral Edema: In susceptible individuals, hypotonic solutions can exacerbate cerebral edema by increasing intracranial pressure.
  • Not for Volume Expansion: Ineffective for patients needing rapid intravascular volume expansion as the fluid quickly shifts into cells and interstitial spaces.

Key Considerations for EMS Providers

  • Isotonic Solutions:

    • When to Use: Ideal for general fluid resuscitation, dehydration, shock, and blood loss. For example, a trauma patient with significant blood loss may benefit from Normal Saline or Lactated Ringer’s.
    • When to Avoid: Caution in patients with renal or heart failure to prevent fluid overload.

  • Hypertonic Solutions:

    • When to Use: Useful in treating severe hyponatremia or cerebral edema. For example, a patient with a traumatic brain injury and signs of increased intracranial pressure may benefit from 3% Sodium Chloride.
    • When to Avoid: Avoid in patients with dehydration or conditions where cellular dehydration would be detrimental.

  • Hypotonic Solutions:

    • When to Use: Effective for treating hypernatremia or cellular dehydration. For example, a patient in DKA with elevated blood glucose and dehydration may be treated with Half Normal Saline.
    • When to Avoid: Not suitable for patients needing rapid intravascular volume expansion, and should be used cautiously in patients with potential for cerebral edema.


  • Isotonic Solutions are versatile and suitable for most situations requiring volume expansion.
  • Hypertonic Solutions are potent and used in specific scenarios like severe hyponatremia or cerebral edema.
  • Hypotonic Solutions are effective for cellular hydration but must be used cautiously to avoid complications like hyponatremia and cerebral edema.

EMS Providers should choose the appropriate type of IV solution based on the patient’s clinical condition, understanding the benefits and risks associated with each to ensure safe and effective patient care.

Further Reading:

Alexander, M. & Belle, R. (2017) Advanced EMT: A Clinical Reasoning Approach (2nd Ed). Hoboken, New Jersey: Pearson Education

Bledsoe, B. E., Cherry, R. A. & Porter, R. S (2023) Paramedic Care: Principles and Practice (6th Ed) Boston, Massachusetts: Pearson

Mistovich, J. J. & Karren, K. J. (2014) Prehospital Emergency Care (11th Ed). Hoboken, New Jersey: Pearson Education

Peate, I. & Sawyer, S (2024) Fundamentals of Applied Pathophysiology for Paramedics. Hoboken, New Jersey:  Wiley Blackwell

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