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The use of loop diuretics in acute renal failure in critically ill patients - maintenance of renal function

Three Part Question

In [critically ill patients with acute renal failure] does [the use of loop diuretics] help maintain [renal function]?

Clinical Scenario

A 70-year-old male is admitted to the intensive care unit with a severe biliary sepsis. He is develops multi-organ failure, is placed on a ventilator and receives inotropic and vasopressor support. He becomes anuric over the next two days, despite adequate fluid resuscitation. He is commenced on renal replacement therapy when he develops fluid overload. You wonder if you could have preserved his renal function and reduced his chances of requiring renal replacement therapy by the use of a loop diuretic.

Search Strategy

OVID Medline 1966 to February Week 3 2005.
(exp Kidney Failure, Acute/ or acute renal or acute kidney or and (exp Diuretics/ or exp Diuretics, Sulfamyl/ or loop diuretic$.mp. or or or or ethacrynic limited to English, Humans, Adults, (Clinical Trial or Randomized Controlled Trial)

Search Outcome

46 papers were found of which 4 directly answered the three part question.

Relevant Paper(s)

Author, date and country Patient group Study type (level of evidence) Outcomes Key results Study Weaknesses
100 patients with acute renal failure after cardiac surgery.Randomized controlled trialNeed for dialysis.Loop diuretics decreased need for dialysis in combination with mannitol and dopamine, not alone.No diuretic free control. Only cardiac surgery patients.
92 patients with acute renal failureRandomized controlled trialRenal recovery, dialysis, deathLoop diuretics do not alter mortality, or the need for dialysisAll patients received dopamine and mannitol also. Not critically ill/ICU patients.
121 ICU patients post-thoraco-abdominal surgery or vascular surgeryRandomized controlled trialEffect of low-dose furosemide on renal functionFurosemide did not prevent deterioration in renal function.No patients with severe renal failure enrolled. No patient exclusion criteria.
23 patients with falciparum malaria with acute renal failureRandomized controlled trialEffect of frusemide and dopamine on renal functionFrusemide did not alter the clinical course of renal failure. Frusemide and dopamine combination preserved renal failure if creatinine < 400mumol/l.Small study. Only patients with malaria. No diuretic-free control used.


There is no evidence that loop diuretics used alone help maintain renal function in critically ill patients with acute renal failure. There is some evidence that loop diuretics in combination with dopamine (Lumlertgul 1989) or dopamine and mannitol (Sirivella 2000) may preserve renal function in certain patient sub-groups.

Clinical Bottom Line

No evidence to suggest that in critically ill patients with acute renal failure the use of loop diuretics help maintain renal function.


  1. Sirivella S. Gielchinsky I. Parsonnet V. Mannitol, furosemide, and dopamine infusion in postoperative renal failure complicating cardiac surgery. Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 2000; 69(2):501-6.
  2. Shilliday IR, Quinn KJ, Allison ME. Loop diuretics in the management of acute renal failure: A prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study. Nephrol Dial Transplant 1997;12:2592 -2596.
  3. Hager B. Betschart M. Krapf R. Effect of postoperative intravenous loop diuretic on renal function after major surgery. Journal Suisse de Medecine 1996;126(16):666-73.
  4. Lumlertgul, D. Keoplung, M. Sitprija, V. Moollaor, P. Suwangool, P. Furosemide and dopamine in malarial acute renal failure. Nephron 1989; 52(1):40-4.