Colloids versus crystalloids for fluid resuscitation in critically ill patients

  • Review
  • Intervention


  • I Roberts,

  • P Alderson,

  • F Bunn,

  • P Chinnock,

  • K Ker,

  • G Schierhout

Mr Paul Chinnock, Senior Editor, PLoS Medicine, 7 Portugal Place, Cambridge, CB5 8AF, UK.



Colloid solutions are widely used in fluid resuscitation of critically ill patients. There are several choices of colloid and there is ongoing debate about the relative effectiveness of colloids compared to crystalloid fluids.


To assess the effects on mortality of colloids compared to crystalloids for fluid resuscitation in critically ill patients.

Search strategy

We searched the Injuries Group specialised register, Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, MEDLINE, EMBASE and BIDS Index to Scientific and Technical Proceedings, and checked reference lists of trials and review articles.

Selection criteria

All randomised and quasi-randomised trials of colloids compared to crystalloids, in patients requiring volume replacement. Cross-over trials and trials in pregnant women and neonates were excluded.

Data collection and analysis

Two reviewers independently extracted data and rated quality of allocation concealment. Trials with a 'double-intervention', such as those comparing colloid in hypertonic crystalloid to isotonic crystalloid, were analysed separately. The analysis was stratified according to colloid type and quality of allocation concealment.

Main results

Colloids compared to crystalloids
Albumin or plasma protein fraction. Nineteen trials reported data on mortality, including a total of 7576 patients. The pooled relative risk (RR) from these trials was 1.02 (95% confidence interval [95% CI] 0.93 to 1.11). When the trial with poor quality allocation concealment was excluded, pooled RR was 1.01 (95% CI 0.92 to 1.10).

Hydroxyethyl starch. Ten trials compared hydroxyethyl starch with crystalloids, including a total of 374 randomised participants. The pooled RR was 1.16 (95% CI 0.68 to 1.96).

Modified gelatin. Seven trials compared modified gelatin with crystalloid, including a total of 346 randomised participants. The pooled RR was 0.54 (95% CI 0.16 to 1.85).

Dextran. Nine trials compared dextran with a crystalloid, including a total of 834 randomised participants. The pooled relative risk was RR 1.24 (95% CI 0.94 to 1.65).

Colloids in hypertonic crystalloid compared to isotonic crystalloid
Eight trials compared dextran in hypertonic crystalloid with isotonic crystalloid, including 1283 randomised participants. Pooled RR was 0.88 (95% CI 0.74 to 1.05).

Authors' conclusions

There is no evidence from randomised controlled trials that resuscitation with colloids reduces the risk of death, compared to resuscitation with crystalloids, in patients with trauma, burns or following surgery. As colloids are not associated with an improvement in survival, and as they are more expensive than crystalloids, it is hard to see how their continued use in these patients can be justified outside the context of randomised controlled trials.

Plain language summary

Plain language summary

No evidence that colloids are more effective than crystalloids in reducing mortality in people who are critically ill or injured

Trauma, burns or surgery can cause people to lose large amounts of blood. Fluid replacement, giving fluids intravenously (into a vein) to replace lost blood, is used to try to maintain blood pressure and reduce the risk of dying. Blood products, non-blood products or combinations are used, including colloid or crystalloid solutions. Colloids are increasingly used but they are more expensive than crystalloids. The review of trials found no evidence that colloids reduce the risk of dying compared with crystalloids.