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The difference between an infusion pump and a syringe pump

Oct. 18, 2021

Many of the drugs used during critical illness are very effective. Variations in the rate of administration of just a few milliliters per hour can have a very significant impact. Patients often have several different medication infusions going on at the same time. Therefore, the accuracy of the fluids and medications delivered is very important. 

The syringe pump

The infusion pump

To ensure accurate fluid and medication administration, infusion pumps are used to deliver intravenous therapy. An infusion pump draws fluid from a standard IV bag and controls the flow rate. It provides accurate and continuous therapy. Because it can be used with any size IV bag, an infusion pump can be used to deliver fluids at very slow or very fast infusion rates. Some pumps are capable of controlling a single IV line, while other infusion pumps have 3 pumps built into one device. These "triple pumps" are used to save space.


The syringe pump

A syringe pump is a different type of infusion device. Instead of drawing fluid from an infusion bag, the IV medication is drawn into a syringe and installed into the device. Because the maximum capacity of a syringe pump is 50 ml, syringe pumps are used to administer very small hourly volumes of medication (e.g., usually less than 5 ml/hour). If the hourly volume demand increases, an infusion pump is usually used to deliver the drug. Syringe pumps are more compact and take up less space than infusion pumps. This becomes important when the patient is receiving many different infusions.


If the patient's fluid needs are very high, or if the body is cold (hypothermic), a special infusion pump with a built-in heater may be used. This device is most commonly used for trauma patients who are cold and require large amounts of fluids and/or blood products.