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IV therapy is soaring in popularity, but it’s not without risks. Experts explain the pros and cons

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IV treatments are popular among celebrities, but are they right for you?
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Whether you’re suffering from a hangover, fatigue, or jet lag, chances are there’s IV therapy for that. Favored among celebrities such as Rihanna, Chrissy Teigen and Simon Cowell, the intravenous treatments have become more prevalent than ever before with boutique clinics and mobile options popping up across the country. 

But are the treatments (also known as IV vitamin therapy, IV hydration therapy, IV drip treatment, and IV infusion) safe? It depends on who you talk to. 

In 2018, Jenner was famously hospitalized in 2018 after a bad reaction to an IV drip that included NAD, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, a coenzyme that helps boost energy. But that didn’t stop her from getting the treatment again on camera in a recent season of The Kardashians with her friend and fellow model Hailey Beiber.

While there are instances when IV treatments are medically necessary, such as when a person is severely dehydrated and unable to consume adequate liquids or they’re in dire need of a blood transfusion, elective IV therapy may not be effective or necessary.

“Some people who get the flu (especially the very young and very old) need IV fluids, but they’re generally quite sick and belong in a medical facility,” Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, senior faculty editor for Harvard Health Publishing, wrote in a blog post. “Most people who have exercised a lot, have a hangover, jet lag, or the flu can drink the fluids they need.”

What is IV therapy?

IV vitamin therapy is when a high dose of vitamins and minerals is injected directly into your bloodstream by placing a needle in your arm. There are a number of infusions available for different needs, such as recovering from a marathon or improving blood volume.

Dr. Joe Palumbo, medical director for Hydreight, a mobile health and wellness provider, estimates there are about 30 to 40 vitamins and nutrients that can be combined with one another to create various treatments. 

“When you start to put them in combination with one another, you really start to have a powerful effect…there’s [an IV] that can provide energy and weight control,” he says. “The big one that’s been out there recently is NAD, which can provide a multiplicity of improvements from anti-aging to energy to immune function that go even to cardiovascular protection and neurological protection.”

Who can benefit from IV vitamin therapy?

While some experts proclaim anyone, save for those with severe heart, kidney or liver disease, can benefit from IV vitamin therapy, Shmerling maintains such treatments should be reserved for severe dehydration, overwhelming infection or other conditions associated with falling blood pressure or organ damage cases and conducted only in a medical setting.

“I’m not aware of any specific population, including older adults, for whom there is evidence that ‘on demand’ IV treatment is warranted rather than eating and drinking or seeking medical evaluation,” he wrote in an email to Fortune. “In fact, the elderly may be at higher risk of side effects from IV treatments.”

But Palumbo says he has observed 83- and 85-year-old patients who have benefited from the popular Myer’s cocktail IV therapy, which includes magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C among other vitamins and nutrients.

“Nutrition is very poor in our older population. A lot of apathy sets in and there can be a lot of difficulty for them to maintain their adequate nutrition,” he says. “So an IV is a good thing [for them], but it’s about being respectful for their age. It’s not that they can’t have it, it’s that you have to be able to adjust it … What you give to a 20-year-old, you can’t necessarily give to an 80-year-old, so you have to be able to adjust it.”

What happens during IV vitamin therapy?

These days, it’s easy to book an IV drip or vitamin therapy online. Once you arrive at the clinic (or the medical professional comes to you), you may undergo a medical screening also known as a good faith exam to review your medical history and determine the best course of treatment. The entire process can take about one to two hours, depending on the type of treatment you’re receiving as some IV treatments drip slower than others.

How much does it cost?

IV drip infusions typically start between $150 and $200, but can cost upward of $350 to $800, depending on ingredients, as Ehsan Ali, a physician at and founder of Beverly Hills Concierge Doctor in California, told Buzzfeed News. Treatments typically aren’t covered by health insurance.

What are the side effects and risks of IV therapy?

While IV therapy is generally considered safe and effective, common side effects include:

  • Pain 
  • Bruising at the injection site
  • Bleeding from the insertion 
  • Swelling in the area of insertion 
  • Inflammation of the veins

Other risks and complications include:

  • Inflamed or blocked vein (a condition called superficial thrombophlebitis) 
  • Heart failure or other complications in a person who has heart disease or other medical conditions if too much fluid is given too quickly 

Should you try IV therapy?

“While serious medical complications from optional IV treatments are likely rare, the unproven benefits are not, in my view, worth even a small risk,” he says. “The availability of on-demand, optional IV treatments that bypass advice from your own doctor is part of a larger and growing trend that encourages medical testing or treatment without input from your own doctor. 

Other examples include genetic testing, imaging tests (CT scanning, MRIs), or oxygen treatment. I’m all for patient empowerment, but in many cases the marketing of some of these services has gotten ahead of the science.” 

Additionally, IV vitamin therapies aren’t regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission charged iV Bars, a drip clinic with locations in Texas and Colorado, with making unsubstantiated claims that IV cocktails can treat serious diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes, and produce fast, long-lasting results. 

“I wish people knew that there is little or no medical evidence to support the sales pitches given for on-demand IV treatments or for the testimonials praising these treatments for conditions such as hangovers or jet lag,” he says. “Optional, at-home IV treatments are generally a more invasive approach than is necessary and of questionable effectiveness to treat the conditions for which they are promoted. My take is this: if your digestive system works, use it rather than paying for an invasive and optional IV treatment.” 

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