Salt or sugar on the brain

A meta-analysis suggests hypertonic saline may be more effective at lowering intracranial pressure than mannitol. An accompanying editorial cleverly entitled ‘Salt or sugar on the brain: Does it matter except for taste?’ suggests one reason hypertonic saline (HTS) has not replaced mannitol in clinical practice is that too many different regimens of HTS, in terms of concentration, dose, bolus vs. continuous infusions, and plus or minus supplementation of colloids, have been utilised. Because only 112 patients with 184 episodes of increased ICP were treated with each medication in this meta-analysis, the editorialist agrees with the authors in suggesting a larger randomised study is needed.

OBJECTIVES: Randomized trials have suggested that hypertonic saline solutions may be superior to mannitol for the treatment of elevated intracranial pressure, but their impact on clinical practice has been limited, partly by their small size. We therefore combined their findings in a meta-analysis.

DATA SOURCES: We searched for relevant studies in MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Scopus, and ISI Web of Knowledge.

STUDY SELECTION: Randomized trials were included if they directly compared equiosmolar doses of hypertonic sodium solutions to mannitol for the treatment of elevated intracranial pressure in human subjects undergoing quantitative intracranial pressure measurement.

DATA EXTRACTION: Two investigators independently reviewed potentially eligible trials and extracted data using a preformed data collection sheet. Disagreements were resolved by consensus or by a third investigator if needed. We collected data on patient demographics, type of intracranial pathology, baseline intracranial pressure, osms per treatment dose, quantitative change in intracranial pressure, and prespecified adverse events. Our primary outcome was the proportion of successfully treated episodes of elevated intracranial pressure.

DATA SYNTHESIS: Five trials comprising 112 patients with 184 episodes of elevated intracranial pressure met our inclusion criteria. In random-effects models, the relative risk of intracranial pressure control was 1.16 (95% confidence interval, 1.00-1.33), and the difference in mean intracranial pressure reduction was 2.0 mm Hg (95% confidence interval, -1.6 to 5.7), with both favoring hypertonic saline over mannitol. A mild degree of heterogeneity was present among the included trials. There were no significant adverse events reported.

CONCLUSIONS: We found that hypertonic saline is more effective than mannitol for the treatment of elevated intracranial pressure. Our meta-analysis is limited by the small number and size of eligible trials, but our findings suggest that hypertonic saline may be superior to the current standard of care and argue for a large, multicenter, randomized trial to definitively establish the first-line medical therapy for intracranial hypertension.

Hypertonic saline versus mannitol for the treatment of elevated intracranial pressure: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials
Crit Care Med. 2011 Mar;39(3):554-9

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