N-acetylcysteine prophylaxis significantly reduces the risk of radiocontrast-induced nephropathy: comprehensive meta-analysis

Catheter Cardiovasc Interv. 2005 Apr;64(4):471-9. doi: 10.1002/ccd.20342.


The objectives of this study was to assess the overall effect of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in preventing radiocontrast-induced nephropathy (RCIN) using all available data in the literature. RCIN is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Existing randomized trials of NAC are small and show inconsistent results. Prior meta-analyses do not include data from the most current studies. We used standard search protocols to identify all published articles and abstracts of prospective trials using NAC with fluid hydration compared to hydration alone in patients with chronic renal insufficiency undergoing contrast procedures. A rise in serum creatinine by 0.5 mg/dl or 25% above baseline at 48-72 hr after contrast exposure was used as the primary outcome. We identified 14 trials of NAC with 1,584 patients published as full-text articles. Using a random-effects model, the use of oral NAC resulted in a significant reduction in the risk for developing RCIN (RR = 0.57; 95% CI = 0.37-0.84; P = 0.01). This finding did not significantly change in a fixed-effect model (RR = 0.55; 95% CI = 0.42-0.73) or when the data were reanalyzed using only randomized trials in all forms (i.e., articles and abstracts; RR = 0.67; 95% CI = 0.47-0.95). We identified only one important difference between the positive and the negative studies: the cumulative exposure to contrast media (174 vs. 152 ml). Metaregression did not show a significant relationship between contrast volume and the RR of developing RCIN (P > 0.10). In the trials showing benefit for NAC, the treated patients' postprocedure creatinine unexpectedly decreased by 0.21 mg/dl (95% CI = 0.33-0.08). Prophylaxis with NAC significantly reduces the risk for RCIN. The reasons for improvement in serum creatinine in patients treated with NAC are unclear, but may include improved renal blood flow due to NAC and/or vigorous hydration.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use*
  • Acute Kidney Injury / chemically induced*
  • Acute Kidney Injury / prevention & control*
  • Contrast Media / administration & dosage
  • Contrast Media / adverse effects
  • Coronary Angiography / adverse effects*
  • Coronary Angiography / methods
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Kidney Function Tests
  • Male
  • Primary Prevention / methods
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / adverse effects*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / adverse effects*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods


  • Contrast Media
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Acetylcysteine