Randomized trials have suggested that hypertonic saline solutions may be superior to mannitol for the treatment of elevated intracranial pressure, but their impact on clinical practice has been limited, partly by their small size. We therefore combined their findings in a meta-analysis.
We searched for relevant studies in MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Scopus, and ISI Web of Knowledge.
Randomized trials were included if they directly compared equiosmolar doses of hypertonic sodium solutions to mannitol for the treatment of elevated intracranial pressure in human subjects undergoing quantitative intracranial pressure measurement.
Two investigators independently reviewed potentially eligible trials and extracted data using a preformed data collection sheet. Disagreements were resolved by consensus or by a third investigator if needed. We collected data on patient demographics, type of intracranial pathology, baseline intracranial pressure, osms per treatment dose, quantitative change in intracranial pressure, and prespecified adverse events. Our primary outcome was the proportion of successfully treated episodes of elevated intracranial pressure.
Five trials comprising 112 patients with 184 episodes of elevated intracranial pressure met our inclusion criteria. In random-effects models, the relative risk of intracranial pressure control was 1.16 (95% confidence interval, 1.00–1.33), and the difference in mean intracranial pressure reduction was 2.0 mm Hg (95% confidence interval, −1.6 to 5.7), with both favoring hypertonic saline over mannitol. A mild degree of heterogeneity was present among the included trials. There were no significant adverse events reported.
We found that hypertonic saline is more effective than mannitol for the treatment of elevated intracranial pressure. Our meta-analysis is limited by the small number and size of eligible trials, but our findings suggest that hypertonic saline may be superior to the current standard of care and argue for a large, multicenter, randomized trial to definitively establish the first-line medical therapy for intracranial hypertension.