Dehydration from viral gastroenteritis is a significant pediatric health problem. Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) is recommended as first-line therapy for both mildly and moderately dehydrated children; however, three quarters of pediatric emergency medicine physicians who are very familiar with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for ORT still use intravenous fluid therapy (IVF) for moderately dehydrated children.
To test the hypothesis that the failure rate of ORT would not be >5% greater than the failure rate of IVF. Secondary hypotheses were that patients in the ORT group will (1) require less time initiating therapy, (2) show more improvement after 2 hours of therapy, (3) have fewer hospitalizations, and (4) prefer ORT for future episodes of dehydration.
A randomized, controlled clinical trial (noninferiority study design) was performed in the emergency department of an urban children's hospital from December 2001 to April 2003. Children 8 weeks to 3 years old were eligible if they were moderately dehydrated, based on a validated 10-point score, from viral gastroenteritis. Patients were randomized to receive either ORT or IVF during the 4-hour study. Treating physicians were masked and assessed all patients before randomization at 2 and 4 hours of therapy. Successful rehydration at 4 hours was defined as resolution of moderate dehydration, production of urine, weight gain, and the absence severe emesis (> or =5 mL/kg).
Seventy-three patients were enrolled in the study: 36 were randomized to ORT and 37 were randomized to IVF. Baseline dehydration scores and the number of prior episodes of emesis and diarrhea were similar in the 2 groups. ORT demonstrated noninferiority for the main outcome measure and was found to be favorable with secondary outcomes. Half of both the ORT and IVF groups were rehydrated successfully at 4 hours (difference: -1.2%; 95% confidence interval [CI]: -24.0% to 21.6%). The time required to initiate therapy was less in the ORT group at 19.9 minutes from randomization, compared with 41.2 minutes for the IVF group (difference: -21.2 minutes; 95% CI: -10.3 to -32.1 minutes). There was no difference in the improvement of the dehydration score at 2 hours between the 2 groups (78.8% ORT vs 80% IVF; difference: -1.2%; 95% CI: -20.5% to 18%). Less than one third of the ORT group required hospitalization, whereas almost half of the IVF group was hospitalized (30.6% vs 48.7%, respectively; difference: -18.1%; 95% CI: -40.1% to 4.0%). Patients who received ORT were as likely as those who received IVF to prefer the same therapy for the next episode of gastroenteritis (61.3% vs 51.4%, respectively; difference: 9.9%; 95% CI: -14% to 33.7%).
This trial demonstrated that ORT is as effective as IVF for rehydration of moderately dehydrated children due to gastroenteritis in the emergency department. ORT demonstrated noninferiority for successful rehydration at 4 hours and hospitalization rate. Additionally, therapy was initiated more quickly for ORT patients. ORT seems to be a preferred treatment option for patients with moderate dehydration from gastroenteritis.