Hypertonic saline in critical care: a review of the literature and guidelines for use in hypotensive states and raised intracranial pressure

Anaesthesia. 2009 Sep;64(9):990-1003. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2044.2009.05986.x.


Hypertonic saline has been in clinical use for many decades. Its osmotic and volume-expanding properties make it theoretically useful for a number of indications in critical care. This literature review evaluates the use of hypertonic saline in critical care. The putative mechanism of action is presented, followed by a narrative review of its clinical usefulness in critical care. The review was conducted using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network method for the review of cohort studies, randomised-controlled trials and meta-analyses. The review focuses specifically on blood pressure restoration and outcome benefit in both haemorrhagic and non-haemorrhagic shock, and the management of raised intracranial pressure. Issues of clinical improvement and outcome benefit are addressed. Hypertonic saline solutions are effective for blood pressure restoration in haemorrhagic, but not other, types of shock. There is no survival benefit with the use of hypertonic saline solutions in shock. Hypertonic saline solutions are effective at reducing intracranial pressure in conditions causing acute intracranial hypertension. There is no survival or outcome benefit with the use of hypertonic saline solutions for raised intracranial pressure. Recommendations for clinical use and future directions of clinical research are presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Hypotension / therapy*
  • Intracranial Hypertension / therapy*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / adverse effects
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / therapeutic use*
  • Shock / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic