Extracellular fluid restoration in dehydration: A critique of rapid versus slow

Malcolm A. Holliday, Aaron L. Friedman, Steven J. Wassner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


We compared current recommendations for treatment of severe dehydration by World Health Organization physicians and by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Pediatric Gastroenterology with those in general textbooks of pediatrics, written mostly by pediatric nephrologists. The former recommend rapid (1- to 2-h) and generous intravenous restoration of extracellular fluid (ECF) volume followed by oral rehydration therapy (ORT) to replace potassium, current maintenance, and diarrheal losses - the rapid rehydration regimen. Oral feedings usually are resumed in 8-24 h. General textbooks of pediatrics usually recommend giving 20 ml/kg saline 'to restore circulation,' followed by the deficit therapy regimen to correct serum electrolyte abnormalities and replace remaining deficits of water, sodium, chloride, and potassium over 1-2 days. Mortality for hospitalized patients with dehydration treated with rapid rehydration was < 3 per 1000; no recent results are reported for patients treated by deficit therapy. The rapid rehydration regimen improves patient well being and restores perfusion, so that oral feedings are readily tolerat ed and renal function corrects serum electrolyte abnormalities in 6 h. Amounts of saline given correspond to amounts given for treating various forms of shock. Deficit therapy regimens provide less ECF restoration and are slower at restoring perfusion: tolerance for oral feedings is delayed. Two hundred pediatric nephrologists were surv eyed, asking how they would treat a patient with severe dehydration and a patient with 40% burns. Only 30 of 200 responded: 29 used a deficit therapy regimen, with 20-40 ml/kg ECF replacement, while a majority rapidly and generously restored ECF volume in burn shock. We recommend that fluid therapy chapters should stop teaching deficit therapy for treating severe dehydration and instead teach the rapid rehydration regimen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)292-297
Number of pages6
JournalPediatric Nephrology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Rapid rehydration regimen
  • Severe dehydration


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