Complications associated with prolonged hypertonic saline therapy in children with elevated intracranial pressure

Authors: Gonda DD, Meltzer HS, Crawford JR, Hilfiker ML, Shellington DK, Peterson BM, Levy ML.

OBJECTIVES: Safe upper limits for therapeutic hypernatremia in the treatment of intracranial hypertension have not been well established. We investigated complications associated with hypernatremia in children who were treated with prolonged infusions of hypertonic saline.
DESIGN: Retrospective chart analysis.
SETTING: PICU in university-affiliated children's hospital.
PATIENTS: All children from 2004 to 2009 requiring intracranial pressure monitoring (external ventricular drain or fiberoptic intraparenchymal monitor) for at least 4 days who were treated with hypertonic saline infusion for elevated intracranial pressure and did not meet exclusion criteria.
INTERVENTION: Continuous hypertonic saline infusion on a sliding scale was used to achieve target sodium levels that would keep intracranial pressure less than 20 mm Hg once the conventional therapies failed.
MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Eighty-eight children met inclusion criteria. Etiologies of elevated intracranial pressure included trauma (n = 48), ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke (n = 20), infection (n = 8), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (n = 5), neoplasm (n = 2), and others (n = 5). The mean peak serum sodium was 171.3 mEq/L (range, 150-202). The mean Glasgow Outcome Score was 2.8 (± 1.1) at time of discharge from the hospital. Overall mortality was 15.9%. Children with sustained (> 72 hr) serum sodium levels above 170 mEq/L had a significantly higher occurrence of thrombocytopenia (p < 0.001), renal failure (p < 0.001), neutropenia (p = 0.006), and acute respiratory distress syndrome (p = 0.029) after controlling for variables of age, gender, Pediatric Risk of Mortality score, duration of barbiturate-induced coma, duration of intracranial pressure monitoring, vasopressor requirements, and underlying pathology. Children with sustained serum sodium levels greater than 165 mEq/L had a significantly higher prevalence of anemia (p < 0.001).
CONCLUSIONS: Children treated by continuous hypertonic saline infusion for intracranial hypertension whose serum sodium levels exceeded certain thresholds experienced significantly more events of acute renal failure, thrombocytopenia, neutropenia, anemia, and acute respiratory distress syndrome than those whose sodium level was maintained below these thresholds.

Full text and source: Pediatric critical care medicine

Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2013 Jul;14(6):610-20. doi: 10.1097/PCC.0b013e318291772b.