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    What’s in the IV bag? Studies show safer option than saline

    New research calls into question what’s in those IV bags that nearly every hospitalized patient gets. Using a different intravenous fluid instead of the usual saline greatly reduced the risk of death or kidney damage, two large studies found.

    The difference could mean 50,000 to 70,000 fewer deaths and 100,000 fewer cases of kidney failure each year in the United States, researchers estimate. Some doctors are hoping the results will persuade more hospitals to switch.

    ‘‘We’ve been sounding the alarm for 20 years,’’ said Dr. John Kellum, a specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. ‘‘It’s purely inertia’’ that prevents a change, he said. He had no role in the studies, published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

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    IVs are one of the most common things in health care. They are used to prevent dehydration, maintain blood pressure, or give patients medicines or nutrients if they can’t eat. Saline has been the most widely used fluid for more than a century, even as evidence has emerged that it can harm kidneys.

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    Other IV solutions called balanced fluids include saline but also contain potassium and other things that make them more like plasma.

    The fluids cost about the same and many suppliers make both types, so switching should not be hard or expensive, doctors said.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS