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 US, researchers estimate. Some doctors are hoping the results will persuade more hospitals to switch, reports the AP. "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. IVs 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 US for more than a century even as evidence has emerged that it can harm kidneys. Other IV solutions called balanced fluids include saline but also contain potassium and other things that make them more like plasma, the clear part of blood. The studies involved 28,000 patients at Vanderbilt University who were given IVs of saline or a balanced fluid. For every 100 people on balanced fluids, there was one fewer death or severe kidney problem. Since there are about 30 million people hospitalized in the US alone each year, "there are tens or hundreds of thousands of patients who would be spared death or severe kidney problems by using balanced fluids instead of saline," says one study leader, Vanderbilt's Dr. Matthew Semler.