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Key Points

  1. Proper management of fluid and electrolytes facilitates crucial homeostasis that allows cardiovascular perfusion, organ system function, and cellular mechanisms to respond to surgical illness.

  2. Knowledge of the compartmentalization of body fluids forms the basis for understanding pathologic shifts in these fluid spaces in disease states. Although difficult to quantify, a deficiency in the functional extracellular fluid compartment often requires resuscitation with isotonic fluids in surgical and trauma patients.

  3. Alterations in the concentration of serum sodium have profound effects on cellular function due to water shifts between the intracellular and extracellular spaces.

  4. Different rates of compensation between respiratory and metabolic components of acid-base homeostasis require frequent laboratory reassessment during therapy.

  5. Although active investigation continues, alternative resuscitation fluids have limited clinical utility, other than the correction of specific electrolyte abnormalities.

  6. Enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) protocols have markedly changed perioperative fluid management and are being used more frequently. ERAS minimizes perioperative fluid administration and focuses on early enteral intake to reduce morbidity associated with IV fluid administration.

  7. Most acute surgical illnesses are accompanied by some degree of volume loss or redistribution. Consequently, isotonic fluid administration is the most common initial intravenous fluid strategy, while attention is being given to alterations in concentration and composition.

  8. Some surgical patients with neurologic illness, malnutrition, acute renal failure, or cancer require special attention to well-defined, disease-specific abnormalities in fluid and electrolyte status.


Fluid and electrolyte management is paramount to the care of the surgical patient. Changes in both fluid volume and electrolyte composition occur preoperatively, intraoperatively, and postoperatively, as well as in response to trauma and sepsis. The sections that follow review the normal anatomy of body fluids, electrolyte composition and concentration abnormalities and treatments, common metabolic derangements, and alternative image resuscitative fluids. These concepts are then discussed in relationship to management of specific surgical patients and their commonly encountered fluid and electrolyte abnormalities.


Total Body Water

Water constitutes approximately 50% to 60% of total body weight. The relationship between total body weight and total body water (TBW) is relatively constant for an individual and is primarily a reflection of body fat. Lean tissues such as muscle and solid organs have higher water content than fat and bone. As a result, young, lean males have a higher proportion of body weight as water than elderly or obese individuals. In an average young adult male, TBW accounts for 60% of total body weight, whereas in an average young adult female, it is 50%.1 The lower percentage of TBW in females correlates with a higher percentage of adipose tissue and lower percentage of muscle mass in most. Estimates of percentage of TBW should be adjusted downward approximately 10% to 20% for obese individuals and upward by 10% for malnourished individuals. The highest percentage of TBW is found in newborns, with approximately 80% ...

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