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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: (1) 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 (2) 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. (The reason for this particular concentration is explained in Section 9.4 "Properties of Solutions".)
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. (Acids and bases are discussed in Chapter 10 "Acids and Bases".) 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.
Solutions are all around us. Air, for example, is a solution. If you live near a lake, a river, or an ocean, that body of water is not pure H2O but most probably a solution. Much of what we drink—for example, soda, coffee, tea, and milk—is at least in part a solution. Solutions are a large part of everyday life.
A lot of the chemistry occurring around us happens in solution. In fact, much of the chemistry that occurs in our own bodies takes place in solution, and many solutions—such as the Ringer’s lactate IV solution—are important for our health. In our understanding of chemistry, we need to understand a little bit about solutions. In this chapter, you will learn about the special characteristics of solutions, how solutions are characterized, and some of their properties.