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IV doctors are making house calls for everything from hangovers to jet lag. Here's what you need to know.

December 05, 2014

The last time I drank too much, I woke up with a raging headache and terrible nausea that lasted until, well, cocktail hour. To combat both, I drank tons of water, popped a pain reliever, and waited it out. (And vowed to exercise more temperance next time.)

But some people are bypassing all that waiting and sipping, instead turning to IV hydration treatments for fast relief of problems like hangovers, jet lag, stomach bugs, and even workout fatigue.

Not surprisingly, Las Vegas is somewhat of Ground Zero for these treatments. Since 2012, worn-out partiers have been heading to Hangover Heaven to get hydrated in the comfort of their hotel rooms. (The basic “Redemption” package starts at $99, not including a $200 house-call fee.)

For $249, the IV Doctor–a service available in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago–offers hangover salvation at your home, hotel, or office via intravenous fluids laced with anti-nausea medicine (i.e. Zofran), antacid (i.e. Pepcid), and even a strong anti-inflammatory (i.e. Toradol). They also promise to relieve jet lag with one bag of fluid for $199 and market some of their treatments to fitness buffs, saying they'll replace fluids and electrolytes to help with athletic exhaustion.

For people burning the candle at both ends, or even for health nuts who want an extra vitamin boost, Hangover Heaven offers the standard bag of fluids topped off with extra vitamin B12, or an antioxidant such as glutathione. (The IV Doctor does B vitamins via injection only.)

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But how safe—and how effective—are these pricey punctures? “The truth is, they’re pretty safe,” says Minesh Khatri, MD, an internist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “There’s always a tiny risk of some bruising at the site of the IV insertion, or at worst, a hematoma [a collection of blood outside a blood vessel] if the IV line infiltrates the vein. But inserting an IV is not tremendously hard, and so that’s unlikely.”

As for how effective these liquid lifelines can be, they’re not all that different than simply drinking fluids or taking an NSAID like ibuprofen. What an IV may offer, he admits, is speed, since it can be hard to pound so much liquid when you’re already feeling horrible, and the anti-inflammatory dose may be higher than what you'd get over the counter.

As for the bells and whistles—i.e. B vitamins, antioxidants, and other boosters—don’t fall for them, says Dr. Khatri. You can just as easily do that yourself via a multivitamin and a glass of juice. “Very few people need additional B12, and if you take more than your body needs of this or other vitamins, they’ll be excreted.”

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There’s one thing Dr. Khatri says IV treatments offer that can be useful: strong anti-nausea medicine, which is something you can’t really get in pill form. (Flu and food poisoning sufferers take note: if your inability to keep food down has left you dehydrated, this may be one instance where an IV can get you back on track.)

The larger concern, however, is that relying on IV treatments as a back-up plan may give you a false sense of security in terms of how you care for yourself. “I think that if you’re drinking so much that you need to have an IV treatment to recover, you should think more about your drinking than anything else,” says Dr. Khatri.

So remember that the old-school route for almost every ailment, from the flu to a few too many—plenty of water, solid sleep, and eating the healthiest foods possible—will probably get you the same results. The tortoise may be a bit slower than the hare, but he gets to the finish line too—and with cash to spare.

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