Background and objective: The advantages of albumin over less costly alternative fluids continue to be debated. Meta-analyses focusing on survival have been inconclusive, and other clinically relevant end-points have not been systematically addressed. We sought to determine whether albumin confers significant clinical benefit in acute illness compared with other fluid regimens.
Methods: Database searches (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library) and other methods were used to identify randomized controlled trials comparing albumin with crystalloid, artificial colloid, no albumin or lower-dose albumin. Major findings for all end-points were extracted and summarized. A quantitative meta-analysis was not attempted.
Results: Seventy-nine randomized trials with a total of 4755 patients were included. No significant treatment effects were detectable in 20/79 (25%) trials. In cardiac surgery, albumin administration resulted in lower fluid requirements, higher colloid oncotic pressure, reduced pulmonary oedema with respiratory impairment and greater haemodilution compared with crystalloid and hydroxyethylstarch increased postoperative bleeding. In non-cardiac surgery, fluid requirements, and pulmonary and intestinal oedema were decreased by albumin compared with crystalloid. In hypoalbuminaemia, higher doses of albumin reduced morbidity. In ascites, albumin reduced haemodynamic derangements, morbidity and length of stay and improved survival after spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. In sepsis, albumin decreased pulmonary oedema and respiratory dysfunction compared with crystalloid, while hydroxyethylstarch induced abnormalities of haemostasis. Complications were lowered by albumin compared with crystalloid in burn patients. Albumin-containing therapeutic regimens improved outcomes after brain injury.
Conclusions: Albumin can bestow benefit in diverse clinical settings. Further trials are warranted to delineate optimal fluid regimens, in particular indications.