'IV lounges' are the latest health fad, but are they safe?

"Rent-a-drip" IV lounges are popping up in big cities across the world, promising speedy recovery for hangover sufferers, jet lag victims and others seeking an intravenous solution to modern dilemmas.

But experts say these lounges are at best a waste of money and at worst potentially dangerous.

Generally unregulated

"The whole thing is really nonsense," said Dr Stanley Goldfarb, a professor of medicine with the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. "It's just catering to people's sense that they're taking their health into their own hands."

The IV lounge craze has been spurred on by reports of use by the likes of Rihanna, Cindy Crawford and Simon Cowell. B-list celebrity Lisa Rinna embraced IV treatment on her reality show, "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills", with both her and her daughters receiving an intravenous drip in her own living room.

People who go to an IV lounge are offered a variety of different intravenous fluids containing a blend of saline, vitamins and medicines targeted to their needs. For example, a hangover IV bag also typically contains anti-nausea medications.

Treatment costs range from roughly $80 to $875 (±R970 to R10 551). The practice is generally unregulated, raising concern among the medical community that fast-buck operators could hurt people through unsafe practices, Dr Goldfarb said.

What is IV drip treatment?

An earlier article published on Health24 explained the theory behind IV drip treatments.

The IV lounges that are trending today are based on the idea that you need to adapt the formula inside the IV drip to suit the needs of the patient, but when IV drips were first administered for vitamin and nutrient therapy, it was a formula based on the findings of the late Dr John Myers, a physician from Maryland who injected nutrients into his patients to treat various conditions.

According to research published in the Alternative Medicine Review, the exact doses of nutrients in the Myers cocktail was not known, but it has been recorded that a combination of magnesium chloride, calcium, gluconate, thiamine, vitamins B6 and B12, calcium pantothenate, vitamin C and diluted hydrochloric acid was used.

Just a placebo effect? 

IV drips are being used as a cure for hangovers andpeople might feel better after receiving the treatment, but it's probably due to the placebo effect, Dr Goldfarb said.

Timing also might play a part in convincing people the IV treatment has worked, Dr Goldfarb said.

"If you've had a hangover, you know after a couple of hours you start to feel better anyway," Dr Goldfarb said. "By the time they get themselves down to the lounge, sign in, start the IV fluids and complete the process, you're probably talking three or four hours after they got up."

As a registered nurse, Wozniak takes a medical history and performs a brief physical on everybody she hooks up to an IV drip. She stays away from hydrating seniors and others who might face risks from receiving intravenous fluids.

But not all centres are run by operators this conscientious, Dr Goldfarb and Dr Glatter said. People going to fly-by-night centres could be exposing themselves to serious illness.

More regulation needed

Dr Glatter would like to see increased regulation of the lounges, to make sure they are properly administering safe blends of intravenous fluids. Possible dangers include:

  • The fact that IVs contain a lot of salt, which could have a negative effect on people with heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • Improperly inserted IVs can create a stroke-causing air embolism or cause the fluids to leak into nearby tissue. 
  • IVs may also expose a person to infection.
  • An incorrect infusion rate can knock a person's electrolyte balance out of whack or overload their fluid levels, potentially causing swelling of the brain, heart failure or kidney damage. 

"The public needs to be aware of this," Dr Glatter said. "The industry needs to be policed."

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