BACKGROUND: Guidelines and clinical practice for the prevention of complications associated with central venous catheters (CVC) around the world vary greatly. Most institutions recommend the use of heparin to prevent occlusion; there is debate, however, regarding the need for heparin and evidence to suggest normal saline (0.9% sodium chloride) may be as effective. The use of heparin is not without risk, may be unnecessary and is also associated with increased cost. This is an update of the review published in 2015.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the clinical effects (benefits and harms) of intermittent flushing of normal saline versus heparin to prevent occlusion in long-term central venous catheters in infants and children.
SEARCH METHODS: The Cochrane Vascular Information Specialist searched the Cochrane Vascular Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase and CINAHL databases; World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform and ClinicalTrials.gov trials register to 9 April 2019. We also undertook reference checking, citation searching and contact with study authors to identify additional studies.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared the efficacy of intermittent flushing with normal saline versus heparin to prevent occlusion of long-term CVCs in infants and children aged up to 18 years of age. We excluded temporary CVCs and peripherally inserted central catheters (PICC).
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently assessed trial inclusion criteria, trial quality and extracted data. We assessed study quality with the Cochrane ‘Risk of bias’ tool. For dichotomous outcomes, we calculated the rate ratio (RR) and corresponding 95% confidence interval (CI). We pooled data using a random-effects model; and we used GRADE to assess the overall certainty of the evidence supporting the outcomes assessed in this review.
MAIN RESULTS: We identified one new study for this update, bringing the total number of included studies to four (255 participants). The four trials directly compared the use of normal saline and heparin; the studies all used different protocols for the intervention and control arms, however, and all used different concentrations of heparin. Different frequencies of flushes were also reported between studies. In addition, not all studies reported on all outcomes. The certainty of the evidence ranged from moderate to very low because there was no blinding; heterogeneity and inconsistency between studies was high; and the CIs were wide. CVC occlusion was assessed in all four trials. We were able to pool the results of two trials for the outcomes of CVC occlusion and CVC-associated blood stream infection. The estimated RR for CVC occlusion per 1000 catheter days between the normal saline and heparin groups was 0.75 (95% CI 0.10 to 5.51; 2 studies, 229 participants; very low certainty evidence). The estimated RR for CVC-associated blood stream infection was 1.48 (95% CI 0.24 to 9.37; 2 studies, 231 participants; low-certainty evidence). The duration of catheter placement was reported to be similar for the two study arms in one study (203 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), and not reported in the remaining studies.
AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS: The review found that there was not enough evidence to determine the effects of intermittent flushing with normal saline versus heparin to prevent occlusion in long-term central venous catheters in infants and children. It remains unclear whether heparin is necessary to prevent occlusion, CVC-associated blood stream infection or effects duration of catheter placement. Lack of agreement between institutions around the world regarding the appropriate care and maintenance of these devices remains.Reference:
Bradford, N.K., Edwards, R.M. and Chan, R.J. (2020) Normal saline (0.9% sodium chloride) versus heparin intermittent flushing for the prevention of occlusion in long-term central venous catheters in infants and children. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. April 30th. 4:CD010996. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010996.pub3.