Key priorities for implementation

The following recommendations have been identified as priorities for implementation.

Principles and protocols for intravenous fluid therapy

  • When prescribing intravenous (IV) fluids, remember the 5 Rs: Resuscitation, Routine maintenance, Replacement, Redistribution and Reassessment.

  • Offer IV fluid therapy as part of a protocol (see the algorithms for IV fluid therapy):

    • Assess patients' fluid and electrolyte needs following algorithm 1: assessment.

    • If patients need IV fluids for fluid resuscitation, follow algorithm 2: fluid resuscitation.

    • If patients need IV fluids for routine maintenance, follow algorithm 3: routine maintenance.

    • If patients need IV fluids to address existing deficits or excesses, ongoing abnormal losses or abnormal fluid distribution, follow algorithm 4: replacement and redistribution.

  • Patients should have an IV fluid management plan, which should include details of:

    • the fluid and electrolyte prescription over the next 24 hours

    • the assessment and monitoring plan.

      Initially, the IV fluid management plan should be reviewed by an expert daily. IV fluid management plans for patients on longer-term IV fluid therapy whose condition is stable may be reviewed less frequently.

Assessment and monitoring

  • Assess the patient's likely fluid and electrolyte needs from their history, clinical examination, current medications, clinical monitoring and laboratory investigations:

    • History should include any previous limited intake, thirst, the quantity and composition of abnormal losses (see the diagram of ongoing losses), and any comorbidities, including patients who are malnourished and at risk of refeeding syndrome (see the NICE guideline on nutrition support for adults).

    • Clinical examination should include an assessment of the patient's fluid status, including:

      • pulse, blood pressure, capillary refill and jugular venous pressure

      • presence of pulmonary or peripheral oedema

      • presence of postural hypotension.

    • Clinical monitoring should include current status and trends in:

      • National Early Warning Score (NEWS)

      • fluid balance charts

      • weight.

    • Laboratory investigations should include current status and trends in:

      • full blood count

      • urea, creatinine and electrolytes.

  • All patients continuing to receive IV fluids need regular monitoring. This should initially include at least daily reassessments of clinical fluid status, laboratory values (urea, creatinine and electrolytes) and fluid balance charts, along with weight measurement twice weekly. Be aware that:

    • Patients receiving IV fluid therapy to address replacement or redistribution problems may need more frequent monitoring.

    • Additional monitoring of urinary sodium may be helpful in patients with high-volume gastrointestinal losses. (Reduced urinary sodium excretion [less than 30 mmol/l] may indicate total body sodium depletion even if plasma sodium levels are normal. Urinary sodium may also indicate the cause of hyponatraemia, and guide the achievement of a negative sodium balance in patients with oedema. However, urinary sodium values may be misleading in the presence of renal impairment or diuretic therapy.)

    • Patients on longer-term IV fluid therapy whose condition is stable may be monitored less frequently, although decisions to reduce monitoring frequency should be detailed in their IV fluid management plan.

  • Clear incidents of fluid mismanagement (for example, unnecessarily prolonged dehydration or inadvertent fluid overload due to IV fluid therapy) should be reported through standard critical incident reporting to encourage improved training and practice (see the table on consequences of fluid mismanagement to be reported as critical incidents).


Routine maintenance

  • If patients need IV fluids for routine maintenance alone, restrict the initial prescription to:

    • 25 to 30 ml/kg/day of water and

    • approximately 1 mmol/kg/day of potassium, sodium and chloride and

    • approximately 50 to 100 g/day of glucose to limit starvation ketosis. (This quantity will not address patients' nutritional needs; see the NICE guideline on nutrition support in adults.)

      Weight-based potassium prescriptions should be rounded to the nearest common fluids available (for example, a 67 kg person should have fluids containing 20 mmol and 40 mmol of potassium in a 24‑hour period). Potassium should not be added to IV fluid bags as this is dangerous. For more information, see the table on IV fluid prescription for routine maintenance over a 24-hour period.

Training and education

  • Hospitals should establish systems to ensure that all healthcare professionals involved in prescribing and delivering IV fluid therapy are trained on the principles covered in this guideline, and are then formally assessed and reassessed at regular intervals to demonstrate competence in:

    • understanding the physiology of fluid and electrolyte balance in patients with normal physiology and during illness

    • assessing patients' fluid and electrolyte needs (the 5 Rs: Resuscitation, Routine maintenance, Replacement, Redistribution and Reassessment)

    • assessing the risks, benefits and harms of IV fluids

    • prescribing and administering IV fluids

    • monitoring the patient response

    • evaluating and documenting changes and

    • taking appropriate action as required.

  • Hospitals should have an IV fluids lead, responsible for training, clinical governance, audit and review of IV fluid prescribing and patient outcomes.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)