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Background

Excessive intravenous fluid prescription may play a causal role in postoperative complications following major gastrointestinal resectional surgery. The aim of this study was to investigate whether fluid and salt restriction would decrease postoperative complications compared with a more modern controlled liberal regimen.

Methods

In this observer-blinded single-site randomized clinical trial consecutive patients undergoing major gastrointestinal resectional surgery were randomized to receive either a liberal control fluid regimen or a restricted fluid and salt regimen. The primary outcome was postoperative complications of grade II and above (moderate to severe).

Results

Some 240 patients (194 colorectal resections and 46 oesophagogastric resections) were enrolled in the study; 121 patients were randomized to the restricted regimen and 119 to the control (liberal) regimen. During surgery the control group received a median (interquartile range) fluid volume of 2033 (1576–2500) ml and sodium input of 282 (213–339) mmol, compared with 1000 (690–1500) ml and 142 (93–218) mmol respectively in the restricted group. There was no significant difference in major complication rate between groups (38·0 and 39·0 per cent respectively). Median (range) hospital stay was 8 (3–101) days in the controls and 8 (range 3–76) days among those who received restricted fluids. There were four in-hospital deaths in the control group and two in the restricted group. Substantial differences in weight change, serum sodium, osmolality and urine : serum osmolality ratio were observed between the groups.

Conclusion

There were no significant differences in major complication rates, length of stay and in-hospital deaths when fluid restriction was used compared with a more liberal regimen. Registration number: ISRCTN39295230 (http://www.controlled-trials.com).

Presented to the United European Gastroenterology Congress, Barcelona, Spain, October 2010; published in abstract form as Gut 2010; 59(Suppl 3): A15