New research calls into question what’s in those IV bags that nearly every hospitalized patient gets. Using a different intravenous fluid instead of the usual saline greatly reduced the risk of death or kidney damage, two large studies found.
The difference could mean 50,000 to 70,000 fewer deaths and 100,000 fewer cases of kidney failure each year in the U.S., researchers estimate. Some doctors are hoping the results will persuade more hospitals to switch.
“We’ve been sounding the alarm for 20 years” about possible harms from saline, said Dr. John Kellum, a critical care specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s purely inertia” that prevents a change, he said.
Kellum had no role in the studies, which were discussed Tuesday at a critical care conference in San Antonio and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Federal grants helped pay for the work.
IVs are one of the most common things in health care. They are used to prevent dehydration, maintain blood pressure or give patients medicines or nutrients if they can’t eat.
Saline — salt dissolved in water — has been the most widely used fluid in the U.S. for more than a century even as evidence has emerged that it can harm kidneys, especially when used a lot.