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Not all IV fluids are the same. There are three basic major categories, based on which ingredient is the key component: sodium, dextrose and multiple electrolytes. Within each, there are other numerous kinds of IV fluids. Choosing the right category, and then the right type within that, can be a matter of life and death. Not all dextrose IVs can be used for every situation. Some are more suited than others, depending on the problem and the patient.

Sugar Water

Dextrose is another name for glucose, a type of sugar; dextrose IVs are sometimes referred to as “sugar water." There are some drawbacks. Prolonged use of sugar water can cause high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Watch blood glucose levels carefully when using dextrose IVs, especially if the patient is diabetic.


Dextrose IVs contain combinations of dextrose and water, in differing concentrations. Dextrose 2.5%, or D2.5W, is a dextrose IV that contains 2.5 grams of dextrose per 100 ml of water. D2.5W is used to dilute other IV solutions or to supply the patient with water and calories.


Dextrose 5%, also called D5W, can also be used to hydrate the patient or to dilute other IVs and medications. D5W also keeps the body from using up protein and muscle mass by giving it carbohydrates and can decrease sodium and potassium levels. D5W quickly becomes hypotonic, having a lower salt concentration than the blood or other cells in the body, and hence is not used for resuscitation like some other solutions with similar chemical makeup, such as normal saline. It is used as source of free water and to prevent cell dehydration.

D10W and D20W

Dextrose 10% is a more concentrated form of dextrose IV fluid. It’s usually used to counterattack hypoglycemia. D20W can also provide more nutrition to the patient in the long term.


Along with dextrose 20%, it is used for more long-term IVs since it can provide more nutrition to the body. But dextrose IVs used for too long can result in a number of negative side effects. Any dextrose IV therapy can cause hypokalemia (a drop in potassium levels) and hyponatremia, a condition in which there is not enough sodium in the body outside of the cells. This is a very serious condition that can lead to brain damage and death.