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Facing acid–base disorders in the third millennium – the Stewart approach revisited

Authors Kishen R, Honoré P, Jacobs R, Joannes-Boyau O, De Waele E, De Regt J, Van Gorp V, Boer W, Spapen HD

Received 8 February 2014

Accepted for publication 4 March 2014

Published 4 June 2014 Volume 2014:7 Pages 209—217

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/IJNRD.S62126

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 5


R Kishen,1,2 Patrick M Honoré,3 R Jacobs,3 O Joannes-Boyau,4 E De Waele,3 J De Regt,3 V Van Gorp,3 W Boer,5 HD Spapen3

1Intensive Care Unit, Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust, Salford, Manchester, UK (formerly); 2Translational Medicine and Neurosciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK; 3Intensive Care Department, Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium; 4Haut Leveque University Hospital of Bordeaux, University of Bordeaux 2, Pessac, France; 5Intensive Care Department, East Limburg Hospital, Genk, Belgium

Abstract: Acid–base disorders are common in the critically ill. Most of these disorders do not cause harm and are self-limiting after appropriate resuscitation and management. Unfortunately, clinicians tend to think about an acid–base disturbance as a “disease” and spend long hours effectively treating numbers rather than the patient. Moreover, a sizable number of intensive-care physicians experience difficulties in interpreting the significance of or understanding the etiology of certain forms of acid–base disequilibria. Traditional tools for interpreting acid–base disorders may not be adequate for analyzing the complex nature of these metabolic abnormalities. Inappropriate interpretation may also lead to wrong clinical conclusions and incorrectly influence clinical management (eg, bicarbonate therapy for metabolic acidosis in different clinical situations). The Stewart approach, based on physicochemical principles, is a robust physiological concept that can facilitate the interpretation and analysis of simple, mixed, and complex acid–base disorders, thereby allowing better diagnosis of the cause of the disturbance and more timely treatment. However, as the concept does not attach importance to plasma bicarbonate, clinicians may find it complicated to use in their daily clinical practice. This article reviews various approaches to interpreting acid–base disorders and suggests the integration of base-excess and Stewart approach for a better interpretation of these metabolic disorders.

Keywords: hemofiltration, strong ion difference, strong ion gap, dialysis, CRRT, sepsis, bedside acid–base approach, Stewart acid base approach


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