Background: Radiographic contrast agents can cause a reduction in renal function that may be due to reactive oxygen species. Whether the reduction can be prevented by the administration of antioxidants is unknown.
Methods: We prospectively studied 83 patients with chronic renal insufficiency (mean [+/-SD] serum creatinine concentration, 2.4+/-1.3 mg per deciliter [216+/-116 micromol per liter]) who were undergoing computed tomography with a nonionic, low-osmolality contrast agent. Patients were randomly assigned either to receive the antioxidant acetylcysteine (600 mg orally twice daily) and 0.45 percent saline intravenously, before and after administration of the contrast agent, or to receive placebo and saline.
Results: Ten of the 83 patients (12 percent) had an increase of at least 0.5 mg per deciliter (44 micromol per liter) in the serum creatinine concentration 48 hours after administration of the contrast agent: 1 of the 41 patients in the acetylcysteine group (2 percent) and 9 of the 42 patients in the control group (21 percent; P=0.01; relative risk, 0.1; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.02 to 0.9). In the acetylcysteine group, the mean serum creatinine concentration decreased significantly (P<0.001), from 2.5+/-1.3 to 2.1+/-1.3 mg per deciliter (220+/-118 to 186+/-112 micromol per liter) 48 hours after the administration of the contrast medium, whereas in the control group, the mean serum creatinine concentration increased nonsignificantly (P=0.18), from 2.4+/-1.3 to 2.6+/-1.5 mg per deciliter (212+/-114 to 226+/-133 micromol per liter) (P<0.001 for the comparison between groups).
Conclusions: Prophylactic oral administration of the antioxidant acetylcysteine, along with hydration, prevents the reduction in renal function induced by contrast agents in patients with chronic renal insufficiency.