There’s A Much Safer IV Liquid Than Saline, Suggests New Study

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There might be a better alternative than saline in IV bags. A new research says that using balanced fluids in IV therapies could lead to less deaths and cases of kidney damage.  ( Boris Horvat | AFP/Getty Images )

A new study is challenging the general preference of saline in IV bags, which is said to cause kidney damage in some patients.

Perhaps the one of the most recognizable object in a hospital setting and one that every hospitalized patient receives, an IV bag is used to avoid dehydration, maintain blood pressure, or deliver nutrients to patients who are unable to eat food normally. Needless to say they are one of the most important health care supplies.

Is Saline Dangerous?

There might be better elements to put in an IV bag than just saline, according to two studies that compared the results of two widely used IV therapies. It turns out patients who received an IV bag with balanced fluids showed a roughly 1 percent decrease in the incidence of death and critical kidney damage.

Would it be wise for many hospitals to replace saline with balanced fluids for hospitalized patients? It appears so. Doing such a move might significantly reduce mortality and morbidity, according to Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Matthew W. Semler during a presentation at the annual meeting of the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

The study involved 28,000 patients at Vanderbilt University who were given either saline-based IV bags or balanced fluid variants. They found that for every 100 patients on balanced fluids, there was one fewer death or critical kidney damage. Yes, 1 percent doesn't seem a dramatic reduction — but when viewed at a grander scale, that could mean up to 70,000 fewer deaths and 100,000 fewer incidents of kidney problems annually in the United States.

Saline And Balanced Fluids For IV Bags

Both saline and crystalloid solutions with plasma-like electrolyte composition are widely used in various hospitals, but why physicians use them depends on how they were trained, said Semler.

"Internal medicine physicians tend to use saline while anesthesiologists and surgeons tend to use balanced fluids more."

Saline has been the most widely used fluid in the United States despite evidence of it being potentially harmful to kidneys, especially when great amounts are used. Other solutions include saline, but they also contain potassium and other elements.

After looking at the results months ago, Vanderbilt has switched to using balanced fluids. Other hospitals keen to follow suit won't find the transition difficult. For one, both fluids cost roughly the same, and there are a lot of suppliers making both variants.

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