Are IV fluids better than oral rehydration for children with acute diarrhea and vomiting?

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Intravenous fluid therapy (IVF) has a slightly lower failure rate than oral replacement therapy (ORT) in children with acute gastroenteritis, but the clinical significance is questionable. IVF takes longer to initiate than ORT and lengthens the hospital stay (strength of recommendation: B, meta-analysis of poor-to-moderate-quality trials).

Shorter hospital stay with oral replacement therapy

A 2006 systematic review compared ORT and IVF in 1811 children 0 to 18 years of age with viral gastroenteritis who were treated for failure to rehydrate in both outpatient and inpatient settings (18 randomized controlled trials [RCTs] of poor to moderate quality).1 The primary outcome was “continued failure to rehydrate,” which varied by study and included persistent vomiting, persistent dehydration, shock, or seizures.

Overall, the risk of failure to rehydrate was 4.9% for ORT and 1.3% for IVF (risk difference [RD]=4%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1%-7%; number needed to treat [NNT]=25). The length of stay (24-hour observation unit or inpatient hospitalization) was shorter for ORT than IVF (6 studies, 526 patients; weighted mean difference (WMD)= −1.2 days; 95% CI, −2.38 to −0.02). Investigators found no difference in weight gain, hyponatremia, hypernatremia, duration of diarrhea, or total fluid intake at 24 hours.

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