Use of hypertonic (3%) saline/acetate infusion in the treatment of cerebral edema: Effect on intracranial pressure and lateral displacement of the brain

Crit Care Med. 1998 Mar;26(3):440-6. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199803000-00011.


Objective: To determine the effect of continuous hypertonic (3%) saline/acetate infusion on intracranial pressure (ICP) and lateral displacement of the brain in patients with cerebral edema.

Design: Retrospective chart review.

Settings: Neurocritical care unit of a university hospital.

Patients: Twenty-seven consecutive patients with cerebral edema (30 episodes), including patients with head trauma (n = 8), postoperative edema (n = 5), nontraumatic intracranial hemorrhage (n = 8), and cerebral infarction (n = 6).

Intervention: Intravenous infusion of 3% saline/acetate to increase serum sodium concentrations to 145 to 155 mmol/L.

Measurements and main results: A reduction in mean ICP within the first 12 hrs correlating with an increase in the serum sodium concentration was observed in patients with head trauma (r2 = .91, p = .03), and postoperative edema (r2 = .82, p = .06), but not in patients with nontraumatic intracranial hemorrhage or cerebral infarction. In patients with head trauma, the beneficial effect of hypertonic saline on ICP was short-lasting, and after 72 hrs of infusion, four patients required intravenous pentobarbital due to poor ICP control. Among the 21 patients who had a repeat computed tomographic scan within 72 hrs of initiating hypertonic saline, lateral displacement of the brain was reduced in patients with head trauma (2.8 +/- 1.4 to 1.1 +/- 0.9 [SEM]) and in patients with postoperative edema (3.1 +/- 1.6 to 1.1 +/- 0.7). This effect was not observed in patients with nontraumatic intracranial bleeding or cerebral infarction. The treatment was terminated in three patients due to the development of pulmonary edema, and was terminated in another three patients due to development of diabetes insipidus.

Conclusions: Hypertonic saline administration as a 3% infusion appears to be a promising therapy for cerebral edema in patients with head trauma or postoperative edema. Further studies are required to determine the optimal duration of benefit and the specific patient population that is most likely to benefit from this treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Edema / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Edema / etiology
  • Brain Edema / physiopathology
  • Brain Edema / therapy*
  • Brain Injuries / complications
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / complications
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Pressure*
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / adverse effects
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / therapeutic use*
  • Sodium Acetate / administration & dosage
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic
  • Sodium Acetate