Although hypoalbuminaemia after injury may result from increased vascular permeability, dilution secondary to crystalloid infusions may contribute significantly. In this double-blind crossover study, the effects of bolus infusions of crystalloids on serum albumin, haematocrit, serum and urinary biochemistry and bioelectrical impedance analysis were measured in healthy subjects. Ten male volunteers received 2-litre infusions of 0.9% (w/v) saline or 5% (w/v) dextrose over 1 h; infusions were carried out on separate occasions, in random order. Weight, haemoglobin, serum albumin, serum and urinary biochemistry and bioelectrical impedance were measured pre-infusion and hourly for 6 h. The serum albumin concentration fell in all subjects (20% after saline; 16% after dextrose) by more than could be explained by dilution alone. This fall lasted more than 6 h after saline infusion, but values had returned to baseline 1 h after the end of the dextrose infusion. Changes in haematocrit and haemoglobin were less pronounced (7.5% after saline; 6.5% after dextrose). Whereas all the water from dextrose was excreted by 2 h after completion of the infusion, only one-third of the sodium and water from the saline had been excreted by 6 h, explaining its persistent diluting effect. Impedances rose after dextrose and fell after saline (P < 0.001). Subjects voided more urine (means 1663 and 563 ml respectively) of lower osmolality (means 129 and 630 mOsm/kg respectively) and sodium content (means 26 and 95 mmol respectively) after dextrose than after saline (P < 0.001). While an excess water load is excreted rapidly, an excess sodium load is excreted very slowly, even in normal subjects, and causes persistent dilution of haematocrit and serum albumin. The greater than expected change in serum albumin concentration when compared with that of haemoglobin suggests that, while dilution is responsible for the latter, redistribution also has a role in the former. Changes in bioelectrical impedance may reflect the electrolyte content rather than the volume of the infusate, and may be unreliable for clinical purposes.

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