In a double-blinded randomized controlled trial, Anja Haase-Fielitz and colleagues find that an infusion of sodium bicarbonate during open heart surgery did not reduce the risk for acute kidney injury, compared with saline control.
Preliminary evidence suggests a nephroprotective effect of urinary alkalinization in patients at risk of acute kidney injury. In this study, we tested whether prophylactic bicarbonate-based infusion reduces the incidence of acute kidney injury and tubular damage in patients undergoing open heart surgery.
Methods and Findings
In a multicenter, double-blinded (patients, clinical and research personnel), randomized controlled trial we enrolled 350 adult patients undergoing open heart surgery with the use of cardiopulmonary bypass. At induction of anesthesia, patients received either 24 hours of intravenous infusion of sodium bicarbonate (5.1 mmol/kg) or sodium chloride (5.1 mmol/kg). The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients developing acute kidney injury. Secondary endpoints included the magnitude of acute tubular damage as measured by urinary neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin (NGAL), initiation of acute renal replacement therapy, and mortality. The study was stopped early under recommendation of the Data Safety and Monitoring Committee because interim analysis suggested likely lack of efficacy and possible harm. Groups were non-significantly different at baseline except that a greater proportion of patients in the sodium bicarbonate group (66/174 [38%]) presented with preoperative chronic kidney disease compared to control (44/176 [25%]; p = 0.009). Sodium bicarbonate increased urinary pH (from 6.0 to 7.5, p<0.001). More patients receiving bicarbonate (83/174 [47.7%]) developed acute kidney injury compared with control patients (64/176 [36.4%], odds ratio [OR] 1.60 [95% CI 1.04–2.45]; unadjusted p = 0.032). After multivariable adjustment, a non-significant unfavorable group difference affecting patients receiving sodium bicarbonate was found for the primary endpoint (OR 1.45 [0.90–2.33], p = 0.120]). A greater postoperative increase in urinary NGAL in patients receiving bicarbonate infusion was observed compared to control patients (p = 0.011). The incidence of postoperative renal replacement therapy was similar but hospital mortality was increased in patients receiving sodium bicarbonate compared with control (11/174 [6.3%] versus 3/176 [1.7%], OR 3.89 [1.07–14.2], p = 0.031).
Urinary alkalinization using sodium bicarbonate infusion was not found to reduce the incidence of acute kidney injury or attenuate tubular damage following open heart surgery; however, it was associated with a possible increase in mortality. On the basis of these findings we do not recommend the prophylactic use of sodium bicarbonate infusion to reduce the risk of acute kidney injury. Discontinuation of growing implementation of this therapy in this setting seems to be justified.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Open heart surgery is a type of cardiac surgery that is used to treat patients with severe heart disease, where the patient's chest is cut open and surgery is performed on the internal structures of the heart. During open heart surgery, surgeons may use a technique called cardiopulmonary bypass to temporarily take over the function of the heart and lungs. This type of surgery may be used to prevent heart attack or heart failure in patients with conditions such as angina, atherosclerosis, congenital heart disease, or valvular heart disease. There are a number of complications associated with open heart surgery and one of these is the rapid loss of kidney function, known as acute kidney injury (AKI), and formerly known as acute renal failure. Symptoms of AKI can be variable, with diagnosis of AKI based on laboratory findings (such as elevated blood urea nitrogen and creatinine), or clinical signs such as inability of the kidneys to produce sufficient amounts of urine. Globally, more than 10 million people are affected by AKI each year. AKI occurs in about one quarter of patients undergoing cardiac surgery and is associated with longer stays in the hospital and an increased risk of death. Treatment of AKI includes administration of intravenous fluids, diuretics, and, in severe cases, patients may require kidney dialysis.
Why Was This Study Done?
The mechanism for why AKI occurs during cardiac surgery is complex and thought to involve multiple factors relating to blood circulation, the immune system, and toxins released by the kidneys. In addition to treating AKI after it occurs, it is important to identify patients who are at risk for developing AKI prior to cardiac surgery and then apply techniques to prevent AKI during cardiac surgery. A number of interventions have been tested for preventing AKI during cardiac surgery, but there is currently no strong evidence for a standard way to prevent AKI. One intervention that has potential for preventing AKI is the administration of sodium bicarbonate during cardiac surgery. Sodium bicarbonate causes alkalinization of the urine, and it is thought that this could reduce the effect of toxins in the kidneys. A previous pilot study showed promising effects for sodium bicarbonate to reduce the likelihood of AKI. In a follow-up to this pilot study, here the researchers have performed an international randomized controlled trial to test whether administration of sodium bicarbonate compared to sodium chloride (saline) during cardiac surgery can prevent AKI.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
350 patients undergoing open heart surgery with at least one risk factor for developing AKI were recruited across four sites in different countries (Germany, Canada, Ireland, and Australia). These patients were randomly assigned to receive either sodium bicarbonate (treatment) or saline control solution, given as a continuous infusion into the blood stream for 24 hours during surgery. Neither the researchers nor the patients were aware of which patients were assigned to the treatment group. The researchers measured the occurrence of AKI within the first 5 days after surgery and they found that a greater proportion of those patients receiving sodium bicarbonate developed AKI, as compared to those patients receiving saline control. On the basis of these findings the study was terminated before planned recruitment was completed. A key issue with this study is that a greater proportion of the patients in the sodium bicarbonate group had chronic kidney disease prior to open heart surgery. After adjusting for this difference in the statistical analysis, the researchers observed that the difference between the groups was not significant—that is, it could have happened by chance. The authors also observed that a significantly greater proportion of patients receiving sodium bicarbonate died in the hospital after surgery compared to patients receiving saline control.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that giving an infusion of sodium bicarbonate to induce alkalinization of the urine during open heart surgery is not a useful treatment for preventing AKI. Furthermore, this treatment may even increase the likelihood of death. The researchers do not recommend the use of sodium bicarbonate infusion to reduce the risk of AKI after open heart surgery and stress the need for discontinuation of this therapy. Key limitations of this research study are the early termination of the study and the greater proportion of patients with chronic kidney disease prior to surgery.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001426.
The Renal Association, a professional association for kidney doctors and researchers, provides information about acute kidney injury
The International Society for Nephrology and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations provide information about preventing acute kidney injury around the world and jointly initiated World Kidney Day
MedlinePlus has information on open heart surgery