Background: Many palliative care patients have reduced oral intake during their illness. The management of this can include the provision of medically assisted hydration with the aim of prolonging the length of life of a patient, improving their quality of life, or both. Objectives: To determine the effect of medically assisted hydration in palliative care patients on their quality and length of life. Search strategy: Studies were identified from searching CENTRAL, MEDLINE (1966 to 2008), EMBASE (1980 to 2008), CINAHL, CANCERLIT, Caresearch, Dissertation abstracts, SCIENCE CITATION INDEX and the reference lists of all eligible studies, key textbooks, and previous systematic reviews. The date of the latest search was February 2008. Selection criteria: All relevant randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or prospective controlled studies of medically assisted hydration in palliative care patients. Data collection and analysis: Five relevant studies were identified. These included two RCTs (93 participants), and three prospective controlled trials (360 participants). These were assessed independently by two review authors for quality and validity. The small number of studies and the heterogeneity of the data meant that a quantitative analysis was not possible, so a description of the main findings was included only. Main results: One study found that sedation and myoclonus (involuntary contractions of muscles) were improved more in the intervention group (28-hydration, 23-placebo). Another study found that dehydration was significantly higher in the non-hydration group, but that some fluid retention symptoms (pleural effusion, peripheral oedema and ascites) were significantly higher in the hydration group (59-hydration group, 167-non-hydration group). The other three studies did not show significant differences in outcomes between the two groups. Authors’ conclusions: There are insufficient good quality studies to make any recommendations for practice with regard to the use of medically assisted hydration in palliative care patients.
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Issue 2, p. 1-18