Hypotonic Versus Isotonic Fluids After Surgery for Children

Kids in hospital with injury, infection or other illness, and those undergoing the physiological stress of surgery, produce (appropriately) elevated antidiuretic hormone levels which contribute to the risk of hyponatraemia by impairing free water excretion in the kidney.

Deaths have occurred on general paediatric and surgery wards when fluid regimens containing low concentrations of sodium (classically 0.18% or 0.225% NaCl) have resulted in hyponatraemia in children without adequate electrolyte monitoring, leading some bodies to recommend at least 0.45% NaCl solutions for maintenance fluid therapy in children.

However two recent studies1,2 on postoperative children show an increased risk of hyponatraemia even with 0.45% saline, when compared with 0.9% saline or Hartmann’s solution (Hartmann’s is similar – almost identical – to Ringer’s lactate).

I like the fact that paediatricians used Hartmann’s in one of these studies1. I have worked with several paediatricians who never use Hartmann’s, either from lack of experience or because of concern about its lactate content (not appreciating the lactate is metabolised by the liver to bicarbonate).
This is ironic, since Alexis Hartmann (1898–1964) was a paediatrician.

Want more fluid therapy irony? The ‘balanced salt solution’ used by Brits and Australasians is Hartmann’s solution – named after an American. The one used by Americans is Lactated Ringer’s solution – named after the British physician Sydney Ringer (1834-1910).

Medical history enthusiasts can read more about Hartmann and Ringer here.

1. A randomised controlled trial of Hartmann’s solution versus half normal saline in postoperative paediatric spinal instrumentation and craniotomy patients.
Arch Dis Child. 2012 Jun;97(6):491-6


OBJECTIVE: To compare the difference in plasma sodium at 16-18 h following major surgery in children who were prescribed either Hartmann’s and 5% dextrose or 0.45% saline and 5% dextrose.

DESIGN: A prospective, randomised, open label study.

SETTING: The paediatric intensive care unit (650 admissions per annum) in a tertiary children’s hospital in Brisbane, Australia.

PATIENTS: The study group comprised 82 children undergoing spinal instrumentation, craniotomy for brain tumour resection, or cranial vault remodelling.

INTERVENTIONS: Patients received either Hartmann’s and 5% dextrose at full maintenance rate or 0.45% saline and 5% dextrose at two-thirds maintenance rate.

MAIN OUTCOMES MEASURES: Primary outcome measure: plasma sodium at 16-18 h postoperatively; secondary outcome measure: number of fluid boluses administered.

RESULTS: Mean postoperative plasma sodium levels of children receiving 0.45% saline and 5% dextrose were 1.4 mmol/l (95% CI 0.4 to 2.5) lower than those receiving Hartmann’s and 5% dextrose (p=0.008). In the 0.45% saline group, seven patients (18%) became hyponatraemic (Na <135 mmol/l) at 16-18 h postoperatively; in the Hartmann’s group no patient became hyponatraemic (p=0.01). No child in either fluid group became hypernatraemic.

CONCLUSIONS: The postoperative fall in plasma sodium was smaller in children who received Hartmann’s and 5% dextrose compared to those who received 0.45% saline and 5% dextrose. It is suggested that Hartmann’s and 5% dextrose should be administered at full maintenance rate postoperatively to children who have undergone major surgery in preference to hypotonic fluids.

2. Hypotonic versus isotonic maintenance fluids after surgery for children: a randomized controlled trial
Pediatrics. 2011 Nov;128(5):857-66.


OBJECTIVE: The objective of this randomized controlled trial was to evaluate the risk of hyponatremia following administration of a isotonic (0.9% saline) compared to a hypotonic (0.45% saline) parenteral maintenance solution (PMS) for 48 hours to postoperative pediatric patients.

METHODS: Surgical patients 6 months to 16 years of age with an expected postoperative stay of >24 hours were eligible. Patients with an uncorrected baseline plasma sodium level abnormality, hemodynamic instability, chronic diuretic use, previous enrollment, and those for whom either hypotonic PMS or isotonic PMS was considered contraindicated or necessary, were excluded. A fully blinded randomized controlled trial was performed. The primary outcome was acute hyponatremia. Secondary outcomes included severe hyponatremia, hypernatremia, adverse events attributable to acute plasma sodium level changes, and antidiuretic hormone levels.

RESULTS: A total of 258 patients were enrolled and assigned randomly to receive hypotonic PMS (N = 130) or isotonic PMS (N = 128). Baseline characteristics were similar for the 2 groups. Hypotonic PMS significantly increased the risk of hyponatremia, compared with isotonic PMS (40.8% vs 22.7%; relative risk: 1.82 [95% confidence interval: 1.21-2.74]; P = .004). Admission to the pediatric critical care unit was not an independent risk factor for the development of hyponatremia. Isotonic PMS did not increase the risk of hypernatremia (relative risk: 1.30 [95% confidence interval: 0.30-5.59]; P = .722). Antidiuretic hormone levels and adverse events were not significantly different between the groups.

CONCLUSION: Hypotonic Versus Isotonic Maintenance Fluids After Surgery for Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial.