Objective: To review the relative efficacy and safety of enteral vs intravenous (IV) rehydration therapy in treating childhood gastroenteritis.
Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register databases were searched. Known investigators and expert bodies were contacted to locate unpublished and ongoing studies.
Study selection: Studies were selected based on the following criteria: randomized or quasi-randomized trials; children younger than 15 years with a clinical diagnosis of gastroenteritis of less than 1-week duration; interventions comprising enteral and IV treatment arms; and at least 1 of the following: major adverse event rates, treatment failure rates, weight gain with treatment, measurement of ongoing losses, length of hospital stay, costs of treatment, and satisfaction with treatment.
Data extraction: Data were extracted from eligible studies, which were then combined using a random-effects model.
Data synthesis: Sixteen trials involving 1545 children and conducted in 11 countries were identified. Compared with children treated with IV rehydration, children treated with oral rehydration had significantly fewer major adverse events, including death or seizures (relative risk, 0.36; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.14-0.89), and a significant reduction in length of hospital stay (mean, 21 hours; 95% CI, 8-35 hours). There was no difference in weight gain between the 2 groups (mean, -26 g; 95% CI, -61 to 10 g). The overall failure rate of enteral therapy was 4.0% (95% CI, 3.0%-5.0%).
Conclusions: For childhood gastroenteritis, enteral rehydration is as effective if not better than IV rehydration. Enteral rehydration by the oral or nasogastric route is associated with significantly fewer major adverse events and a shorter hospital stay compared with IV therapy and is successful in most children.