What is a Pressure Bag? (with pictures)

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Disposable pressure bags are designed for use with a single patient.
Disposable pressure bags are designed for use with a single patient.

A pressure bag is a device that is used to pressurize a bag filled with intravenous fluid for the purpose of regulating how quickly the fluid is dispensed to the patient. Sometimes also called pressure pumps, pressure bags can be used in numerous clinical settings. Companies that manufacture these bags usually sell several different versions, including disposable ones designed for use with a single patient, which are thrown away after one use. This reduces the amount of time and energy spent on sterilization and storage.

Infusion pumps may be used to deliver precise doses of medication over a specified period of time.
Infusion pumps may be used to deliver precise doses of medication over a specified period of time.

When a patient is set up with an intravenous line, the size of the intravenous catheter and the width of the line have an impact on how quickly fluids can be delivered. For a basic drip, a bag of fluids may be elevated on a pole above the patient, with gravity doing the work. Some fine tuning may be possible with clips. Using a pressure bag increases the rate of flow by pressurizing the bag and forcing the contents out more quickly.

An intravenous drip may be administered via veins in the arm if veins in the hand are unsuitable.
An intravenous drip may be administered via veins in the arm if veins in the hand are unsuitable.

Pressure bags are inflatable cuffs that can be manually inflated to a desired level of pressure. The rate of the drip can be controlled by increasing or decreasing the pressure. Emergency release valves allow care providers to relieve pressure if there is a problem. Historically, people improvised the bags by putting bags under the patient and using the patient's weight as a source of pressure, or by inflating a blood pressure cuff around the IV bag. The bag is a somewhat neater solution to the problem.

Blood pressure cuffs have been used in the past to put pressure on IV bags.
Blood pressure cuffs have been used in the past to put pressure on IV bags.

The major complication that can arise when using a pressure bag is the risk that the bag of fluid will burst. This will not injure the patient, although it can be startling, and if the bag is filled with something like a blood product or a hazardous medication, it can present a safety risk to health care providers in the room. Pressure relief valves are installed to limit the possibility of such events and care providers also use their judgment when inflating a pressure bag.

Pressure bags may be used during a blood transfusion.
Pressure bags may be used during a blood transfusion.

For very controlled delivery of intravenous fluids, a patient can be connected to an infusion pump. Infusion pumps can deliver very precise doses of medication over the period of time programmed into the device, which may be hours or days. They are especially useful when patients only need small amounts of a medication or when an intravenous drip needs to be tightly controlled to reduce the risk of giving the patient too much.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

cmsmith10

@purplespark- I work as an emergency room nurse in a trauma unit. We do exactly what you're talking about. We will start two IV's with pressure bags to keep the patient from losing too much fluid. We sometimes use a pressure bag with patients having a heart attack, as well.

PurpleSpark

I worked as a paramedic for ten years and just about every patient we had needed an IV. We kept pressure bags on the ambulance but didn’t have to use them very much. If the patient was not critical, we would start an IV and set it at TKO (to keep open), also called KVO (keep vein open). This just barely lets the fluids run through the vein. It’s just enough to keep the vein open and provide intravenous fluids during the transport to the emergency room.

If we had a patient that had a traumatic accident, such as a bad car wreck, we would often start two IV’s. We would either set them as “bolus” which basically means wide open. Depending on the status of the patient, we would use pressure bags. If the patient was severely injured and lost a large volume of blood, we would use pressure bags to keep fluids steadily running.

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    • Disposable pressure bags are designed for use with a single patient.
      Disposable pressure bags are designed for use with a single patient.
    • Infusion pumps may be used to deliver precise doses of medication over a specified period of time.
      Infusion pumps may be used to deliver precise doses of medication over a specified period of time.
    • An intravenous drip may be administered via veins in the arm if veins in the hand are unsuitable.
      An intravenous drip may be administered via veins in the arm if veins in the hand are unsuitable.
    • Blood pressure cuffs have been used in the past to put pressure on IV bags.
      Blood pressure cuffs have been used in the past to put pressure on IV bags.
    • Pressure bags may be used during a blood transfusion.
      Pressure bags may be used during a blood transfusion.