• Lines & Alarms

    Lines & Alarms

    A line is a tube or wire that enters your body through a “port” – natural opening or one created by the physician. The purpose of lines is to:

    1. Monitor your vital functions.
    2. Record what is happening to all your organs such as your heart, lungs, and kidneys.
    3. Measure critical variables – for example, the oxygen in your blood and the output of your kidneys – that give your doctors insight into how you are doing.
    4. Control certain physiologic functions such as your rate of respiration or the pace that your heart beats.
    5. Deliver fluids, nutrients, oxygen, and medications to keep the patient safe and allow them to recover.


    Monitors have alarms that alert the physicians and nurses of any changes that need their immediate attention.

    At the hospital, you may hear lots of bells and alarms. Obviously, their most important purpose is to notify the medical staff of any changes in your vital signs. However, not all of these sounds are critical. Often they just alert nurses to things such as empty IV bags, occluded lines, or dislodged sensors. These, while annoying and sleep disturbing, help keep medications and important fluids flowing.


    A line is a tube or electrode that is put into the body through an opening and are used to measure, record, control, monitor and deliver. Sometimes they are introduced through a natural connection to the outside (foley catheter in a bladder) and other times a port or opening is created.

    Things that can be measured and monitored include heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, blood oxygenation and urine output. The machines to which these lines are connected monitor changes outside of a prescribed range. Any movement above or below the range, triggers an alarm.

    There are both visual alarms with flashing lights and auditory alarms with loud clangs and bells. These alarms often scare, or startle, the patient or family member. Don’t worry (that much), as most times these are false alarms. The nurses respond to every alarm anyway. The boy who cried wolf could get away with a lot in a recovery room!!!

    Other lines can be used to administer a drug, or an electric current, deliver a gas such as oxygen, and replace needed fluids.

    Intravenous Line (IV)

    The Intravenous Line is the most common line that enters a blood vessel. They replace lost fluid from sweating, urine, respirations, surgery and other fluid loss. Although generally safe, there are some rare complications when using an intravenous line. They are used to give fluids like saline, sugar water, or blood. While an IV can be placed anywhere in the body they are most commonly placed in the arm or hand.

    Type of Intravenous Fluids

    The types of intravenous fluids that can be found in your IV bag include but are not limited to ringer’s lactate, normal saline, D5W, albumisol, plasma, whole blood, and packed cells. Ringer’s Lactate contains sterile water salts and minerals that are supposed to match the composition of your normal body fluids. Normal Saline is a solution of sterile water and salt used to replace lost water. D5W is 5 percent dextrose in water. Albumisol or plasmanate is a dilute concentration of water and proteins found in your body. Plasma is blood without the cellular elements.

    Problems with IV Lines

    Air in the Line

    Many patients worry about IV lines because they have heard about “someone’s friend” who died from bubbles of air entering the tube. These cases are extremely rare and can only occur if an extreme amount of air enters through the vein. It cannot enter when the bag empties. You may see blood back up into the tube but that is it.


    In this condition, medication or other agents that are arriving to the patient via IV tube are leaking through the tube or vein and into the tissue around the vein. This could cause swelling and other irritations. To help your doctor may advise steroid injections or compresses, depending upon the medication that was flowing.


    People who are receiving chemo are more susceptible to infection than the general population. Just insertion of an IV can cause an infection .


    Whenever your IV has been in one spot for more than two days and you are having pain at the site, tell your nurse. This is a sign of phlebitis. This is an irritation of the vein from having the IV in too long. It can be corrected by having the IV removed and placed elsewhere.

    Long Term IV Use

    Some people such as those with cancer, endocarditis, or a bone infection, require long-term antibiotics. This requires the assistance of a home care agency who will assist with the IV bags and changing the locations of the IVs. If a time comes where the home care nurses “run out of veins”, you may have to go in for a surgical procedure where access to a large vein is made available.

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