Using a different kind of intravenous fluid instead of the saline generally used for IV drips in hospitals will reduce the risks of death or kidney damage, two studies found.
Researchers called the contents of IV bags into question, saying that the difference between saline and other fluids could be as much as 50,000 to 70,000 fewer deaths, and 100,000 fewer kidney failure cases. Doctors are hoping these results will convince hospitals to switch their IV bags, The New York Post reports.
John Kellum, a critical care specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, said that with regards to saline, “We’ve been sounding the alarm for 20 years.” The only reason there has been no change is “purely inertia,” he added. Kellum did not take part in the studies.
IV drips are one of the most common things around in medical care. They are used to maintain blood pressure, hydrate patients, or give medicines or nutrients for those who can’t physically eat. Saline has been the most widely used fluid for over a century in the United States, even if recent evidence has shown this solution can harm the kidneys.
Other IV solutions called balanced fluids are widely used in Europe and Australia, and contain saline, along with potassium and substances that make the IV similar to plasma.
The two large studies involved 28,000 patients at Vanderbilt University who were given an IV of either saline or a balanced fluid. It turned out that for every 100 people on balanced fluids, there was one fewer death or kidney failure.
Matthew Semler of Vanderbilt, one of the lead authors, said,
There are tens or hundreds of thousands of patients who would be spared death or severe kidney problems by using balanced fluids instead of saline.
Saline and balanced fluids cost around the same, and many medical suppliers make both, so the switch should be fairly easy, doctors said.
The studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.