Saline versus balanced crystalloids for intravenous fluid therapy in the emergency department: study protocol for a cluster-randomized, multiple-crossover trial

Trials. 2017 Apr 13;18(1):178. doi: 10.1186/s13063-017-1923-6.


Background: Prior studies in critically ill patients suggest the supra-physiologic chloride concentration of 0.9% ("normal") saline may be associated with higher risk of renal failure and death compared to physiologically balanced crystalloids. However, the comparative effects of 0.9% saline and balanced fluids are largely unexamined among patients outside the intensive care unit, who represent the vast majority of patients treated with intravenous fluids.

Methods/design: This study, entitled Saline Against Lactated Ringer's or Plasma-Lyte in the Emergency Department (SALT-ED), is a pragmatic, cluster, multiple-crossover trial at a single institution evaluating clinical outcomes of adults treated with 0.9% saline versus balanced crystalloids for intravenous fluid resuscitation in the emergency department. All adults treated in the study emergency department receiving at least 500 mL of isotonic crystalloid solution during usual clinical care and subsequently hospitalized outside the intensive care unit are included. Treatment allocation of 0.9% saline versus balanced crystalloids is assigned by calendar month, with study patients treated during the same month assigned to the same fluid type. The first month (January 2016) was randomly assigned to balanced crystalloids, with each subsequent month alternating between 0.9% saline and balanced crystalloids. For balanced crystalloid treatment, clinicians can choose either Lactated Ringer's or Plasma-Lyte A©. The study period is set at 16 months, which will result in an anticipated estimated sample size of 15,000 patients. The primary outcome is hospital-free days to day 28, defined as the number of days alive and out of the hospital from the index emergency department visit until 28 days later. Major secondary outcomes include proportion of patients who develop acute kidney injury by creatinine measurements; major adverse kidney events by hospital discharge or day 30 (MAKE30), which is a composite outcome of death, new renal replacement therapy, and persistent creatinine elevation >200% of baseline; and in-hospital mortality.

Discussion: This ongoing pragmatic trial will provide the most comprehensive evaluation to date of clinical outcomes associated with 0.9% saline compared to physiologically balanced fluids in patients outside the intensive care unit.

Trial registration:, NCT02614040 . Registered on 18 November 2015.

Keywords: Crystalloid; Emergency department; Intravenous fluids; Pragmatic trial; Renal failure; Saline.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Pragmatic Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury / etiology
  • Acute Kidney Injury / therapy
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Crystalloid Solutions
  • Electrolytes / administration & dosage*
  • Electrolytes / adverse effects
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Fluid Therapy / adverse effects
  • Fluid Therapy / methods*
  • Fluid Therapy / mortality
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Isotonic Solutions / administration & dosage*
  • Isotonic Solutions / adverse effects
  • Length of Stay
  • Prospective Studies
  • Renal Replacement Therapy
  • Research Design
  • Ringer's Lactate
  • Risk Factors
  • Sodium Chloride / administration & dosage*
  • Sodium Chloride / adverse effects
  • Tennessee
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Crystalloid Solutions
  • Electrolytes
  • Isotonic Solutions
  • Ringer's Lactate
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Plasmalyte A

Associated data