Open Access Open Badges Research

Hypernatremia in patients with severe traumatic brain injury: a systematic review

Leif Kolmodin1, Mypinder S Sekhon15, William R Henderson15, Alexis F Turgeon3 and Donald EG Griesdale1245*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Division of Critical Care Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

2 Department of Anesthesia, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

3 Department of anesthesiology, Division of Critical Care, Université Laval, Québec City, QC, Canada

4 Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, Vancouver, BC, Canada

5 Critical Care Medicine, Vancouver General Hospital, Room 2438, Jim Pattison Pavilion, 2nd Floor, 855 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V5Z 1 M9, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

Annals of Intensive Care 2013, 3:35  doi:10.1186/2110-5820-3-35

Published: 6 November 2013



Hypernatremia is common following traumatic brain injury (TBI) and occurs from a variety of mechanisms, including hyperosmotic fluids, limitation of free water, or diabetes insipidus. The purpose of this systematic review was to assess the relationship between hypernatremia and mortality in patients with TBI.


We searched the following databases up to November 2012: MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CENTRAL. Using a combination of MeSH and text terms, we developed search filters for the concepts of hypernatremia and TBI and included studies that met the following criteria: (1) compared hypernatremia to normonatremia, (2) adult patients with TBI, (3) presented adjusted outcomes for mortality or complications.


Bibliographic and conference search yielded 1,152 citations and 11 abstracts, respectively. Sixty-five articles were selected for full-text review with 5 being included in our study. All were retrospective cohort studies totaling 5,594 (range 100–4,296) patients. There was marked between-study heterogeneity. The incidence of hypernatremia ranged between 16% and 40%. Use of hyperosmolar therapy was presented in three studies (range 14-85% of patients). Hypernatremia was associated with increased mortality across all four studies that presented this outcome. Only one study considered diabetes insipidus (DI) in their analysis where hypernatremia was associated with increased mortality in patients who did not receive DDAVP.


Although hypernatremia was associated with increased mortality in the included studies, there was marked between-study heterogeneity. DI was a potential confounder in several studies. Considering these limitations, the clinical significance of hypernatremia in TBI is difficult to establish at this stage.

Traumatic brain injury; Hypernatremia; Hyperosmolar therapy; Hypertonic saline