Routes of administration and retrieval

Last revised by Dr Daniel J Bell on 30 Nov 2021

Routes of administration and retrieval refers to the multiple different routes by which substances can be transferred into (e.g. medication) , or removed from (e.g. pus), the human body. These routes most commonly employ natural non-intimate orifices of the body and therefore are usually not considered invasive.

On the other hand, a more invasive approach may occasionally be necessary, such as using an intimate natural orifice, e.g. per vaginal, a needle-based approach or even full blown surgery. 

Contrast medium administration is usually intravenous, although of course almost every conceivable route has been used, although some are now uncommon/unusual.

  • non-invasive
    • oral (PO): commonest route for medication
    • sublingual: under the tongue, bypasses liver
    • buccal: inner surface of the cheek bypasses liver e.g. glyceryl nitrate for angina
    • topical: application directly to the skin
    • transdermal, e.g. skin patches
    • intranasal, e.g. influenza vaccination
    • ocular (a.k.a. ophthalmic), e.g. eye drops
    • otic, e.g. ear drops
    • inhalation: directly into the lungs, e.g. oxygen, Tc-99m DTPA
  • invasive
    • per vaginal (PV): includes pessaries
    • per rectal (PR): bypasses liver
    • per urethral (PU)
    • ​needle
      • intravenous (IV): commonest route for contrast media, drugs, fluids and blood transfusions
      • intra-arterial (IA)
      • intralymphatic (IL): usually into lymph node, rather than lymphatics 4
      • intramuscular (IM)
      • subcutaneous (SC)
      • subdermal: e.g. contraceptive implants 5
      • intracavitary
        • pleural
        • intraperitoneal
        • pericardial
        • epidural
        • intracardiac
      • stoma
      • intra-articular: e.g. direct arthrogram
      • biliary
      • renal e.g. nephrostomy
      • intraosseous, primarily infants for resuscitation
    • surgical
      • laparoscopic
      • open surgery

ADVERTISEMENT: Supporters see fewer/no ads

Updating… Please wait.

 Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

 Thank you for updating your details.