The great fluid debate: saline or so-called "balanced" salt solutions?
Intravenous fluids are commonly prescribed in childhood. 0.9 % saline is the most-used fluid in pediatrics as resuscitation or maintenance solution. Experimental studies and observations in adults suggest that 0.9 % saline is a poor candidate for fluid resuscitation. Although anesthesiologists, intensive care specialists, perioperative physicians and nephrologists have been the most active in this debate, this issue deserves some physiopathological considerations also among pediatricians.
As compared with so-called "balanced" salt crystalloids such as lactated Ringer, administration of large volumes of 0.9 % saline has been associated with following deleterious effects: tendency to hyperchloremic metabolic acidosis (called dilution acidosis); acute kidney injury with reduced urine output and salt retention; damaged vascular permeability and stiffness, increase in proinflammatory mediators; detrimental effect on coagulation with tendency to blood loss; detrimental gastrointestinal perfusion and function; possible uneasiness at the bedside resulting in unnecessary administration of more fluids. Nevertheless, there is no firm evidence that these adverse effects are clinically relevant.
Intravenous fluid therapy is a medicine like insulin, chemotherapy or antibiotics. Prescribing fluids should fit the child's history and condition, consider the right dose at the right rate as well as the electrolyte levels and other laboratory variables. It is unlikely that a single type of fluid will be suitable for all pediatric patients. "Balanced" salt crystalloids, although more expensive, should be preferred for volume resuscitation, maintenance and perioperatively. Lactated Ringer appears unsuitable for patients at risk for brain edema and for those with overt or latent chloride-deficiency. Finally, in pediatrics there is a need for new fluids to be developed on the basis of a better understanding of the physiology and to be tested in well-designed trials