If you watch any of the medical dramas on television, you may have heard a doctor (actually an actor) call for an intravenous solution of “Ringer’s lactate” (or “lactated Ringer’s”). So what is Ringer’s lactate?
Intravenous (IV) solutions are administered for two main reasons:
- to introduce necessary substances into the bloodstream, such as ions for proper body function, sugar and other food substances for energy, or drugs to treat a medical condition, and
- to increase the volume of the bloodstream.
Many people with acute or long-term medical conditions have received some type of an IV solution.
One basic IV solution, called a normal saline solution, is simply a dilute solution of NaCl dissolved in water. Normal saline is 9.0 g of NaCl dissolved in each liter of solution. Ringer’s lactate is a normal saline solution that also has small amounts of potassium and calcium ions mixed in. In addition, it contains about 2.5 g of lactate ions (C3H5O3−) per liter of solution. The liver metabolizes lactate ions into bicarbonate (HCO3−) ions, which help maintain the acid-base balance of blood. Many medical problems, such as heart attacks and shock, affect the acid-base balance of blood, and the presence of lactate in the IV solution eases problems caused by this imbalance.
Physicians can select from a range of premade IV solutions, in accordance with a patient’s particular needs. Ringer’s lactate is commonly used when a patient’s blood volume must be increased quickly. Another frequently used IV solution, called D5W, is a 5% solution of dextrose (a form of sugar) in water.