Tissue Edema, Fluid Balance, and Patient Outcomes in Severe Sepsis: An Organ Systems Review

J Intensive Care Med. 2018 Sep;33(9):502-509. doi: 10.1177/0885066617742832. Epub 2017 Nov 26.


Severe sepsis and septic shock remain among the deadliest diseases managed in the intensive care unit. Fluid resuscitation has been a mainstay of early treatment, but the deleterious effects of excessive fluid administration leading to tissue edema are becoming clearer. A positive fluid balance at 72 hours is associated with significantly increased mortality, yet ongoing fluid administration beyond a durable increase in cardiac output is common. We review the pathophysiologic and clinical data showing the negative effects of edema on pulmonary, renal, central nervous, hepatic, and cardiovascular systems. We discuss data showing increased morbidity and mortality following nonjudicious fluid administration and challenge the assumption that patients who are fluid responsive are also likely to benefit from that fluid. The distinctions between fluid requirement, responsiveness, and tolerance are central to newer concepts of resuscitation. We summarize data in each organ system showing a predictable increase in morbidity and mortality with nonbeneficial fluid administration, providing a better framework for precision in volume management of the patient with severe sepsis.

Keywords: cardiac output; fluid balance; fluid responsiveness; fluid tolerance; hemodynamic optimizationIntroduction; resuscitation; severe sepsis; starling law; tissue edema.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Critical Care
  • Edema / physiopathology*
  • Fluid Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Heart / physiopathology
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Kidney / physiopathology
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Sepsis / physiopathology*
  • Sepsis / therapy*
  • Shock, Septic / physiopathology
  • Shock, Septic / therapy
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology*