Difference Between IV Catheter and Cannula

The use of intravenous (IV) therapy is vital in various medical procedures. When administering fluids, medications, or blood products directly into a patient’s bloodstream, healthcare professionals rely on IV catheters and cannulas. Although both serve similar purposes, they differ in design and usage. Let’s explore the significant distinctions between IV catheters and cannulas.

IV Catheter

IV catheters are thin, hollow tubes made from materials like polyurethane or silicone. They typically have a sharpened tip, also known as a bevel, to facilitate easier insertion into the vein. IV catheters come in various sizes, referred to as gauges, which determine the outer diameter and flow rate capacity.

These catheters are designed for providing long-term access to veins. They can stay in the patient’s body for several days or even weeks, allowing repeated administration of fluids or medications. With IV catheters, healthcare professionals have the flexibility to administer infusions over an extended period.


A cannula is a flexible, blunt-tipped tube used primarily for short-term IV therapy. Unlike IV catheters, cannulas do not have sharpened tips. Instead, they come with a small, flexible plastic catheter that is less invasive and less likely to cause damage to veins.

Cannulas are generally used for quick access or when inserting an IV line for a single treatment or procedure. They are ideal for situations where there is no need for an extended period of access, such as blood sampling or administering a single dose of medication.

Differences in Usage

One of the primary differences between IV catheters and cannulas lies in their usage. IV catheters are typically used when long-term access to a patient’s veins is necessary. They allow healthcare professionals to administer fluids or medications over an extended period without repeatedly initiating new IV lines.

On the other hand, cannulas are designed for short-term access. They are preferred when immediate access is required, but the duration of treatment or procedure is short. Cannulas are used for rapid administration or blood sampling, minimizing the risk of complications associated with prolonged catheter insertion.

Differences in Design

The design of IV catheters and cannulas also differs. IV catheters have sharpened bevels, allowing them to pierce through the skin and veins more easily. The beveled tip reduces resistance during insertion and facilitates smoother advancement through the vein.

In contrast, cannulas have blunt tips for a less invasive approach. The flexible plastic catheter used with cannulas has a rounded end, preventing damage to veins during insertion. This design choice reduces the likelihood of complications, such as vein perforation or infiltration.


To summarize, IV catheters and cannulas have distinct differences in their usage and design. IV catheters are suitable for long-term access, enabling continuous infusions over an extended period, while cannulas are ideal for short-term access or quick procedures to minimize complications. Understanding the differences between these two devices is crucial for healthcare professionals to make informed decisions when choosing the appropriate intravenous delivery method for patient care.

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