UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Critical Care

Title: Decisions, Decisions...Crystalloid or Colloid?

Keywords: hydroxyethyl starch crystalloid, colloid, lactated ringers, normal saline, resuscitation, sepsis, hypotension (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/3/2012 by Haney Mallemat, MD
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Septic patients with hemodynamic instability often require intravenous fluids as part of their resuscitation. Major debate has occurred whether the optimal resuscitation fluids are crystalloids (e.g., normal saline) or colloids (e.g., albumin).

In theory, colloids are more potent intravascular expanders than crystalloids because their oncotic pressure is higher and should increase intravascular volume similarly to larger amounts crystalloid (i.e., colloids require less volume during resuscitation). 

Despite these theoretical benefits, the colloid hydroxyethyl starch (HES), has come under scrutiny after prior studies have linked its use with adverse outcomes. 

A recent prospective randomized-control trial compared the use of HES to lactated acetate for resuscitating septic patients and found that HES significantly increased both the incidence of renal-replacement therapy and mortality at 90 days (both primary end-points in the study).

Bottom line: There is no convincing data that HES performs superiorly to crystalloid for resuscitation in sepsis and there is increased harm with its use. Furthermore, the increased cost of HES compared to crystalloids does not justify its routine use.


Perner A., et al. Hydroxyethyl Starch 130/0.4 versus Ringer's Acetate in Severe Sepsis. NEJM. 2012 Jun 27.

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