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Randomised trials of human albumin for adults with sepsis: systematic review and meta-analysis with trial sequential analysis of all-cause mortality

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 22 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4561

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  1. Amit Patel, specialist registrar and clinical lecturer123,
  2. Michael A Laffan, professor and consultant3,
  3. Umeer Waheed, consultant1,
  4. Stephen J Brett, reader and consultant1
  1. 1Centre for Perioperative Medicine and Critical Care Research, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Hammersmith Hospital, London W12 0HS, UK
  2. 2MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College London, London, UK
  3. 3Centre for Haematology, Hammersmith Hospital, Imperial College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: A Patel amit.patel{at}
  • Accepted 20 June 2014


Objective To assess the efficacy and safety of pooled human albumin solutions as part of fluid volume expansion and resuscitation (with or without improvement of baseline hypoalbuminaemia) in critically unwell adults with sepsis of any severity.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials, with trial sequential analysis, subgroup, and meta-regression analyses.

Data sources PubMed, PubMed Central, Web of Science (includes Medline, Conference Proceedings Citation Index, Data Citation Index, Chinese Science Citation Database, CAB abstracts, Derwent Innovations Index), OvidSP (includes Embase, Ovid Medline, HMIC, PsycINFO, Maternity and Infant Care, Transport Database), Cochrane Library,,, online material, relevant conference proceedings, hand searching of reference lists, and contact with authors as necessary.

Eligibility criteria Prospective randomised clinical trials of adults with sepsis of any severity (with or without baseline hypoalbuminaemia) in critical or intensive care who received pooled human albumin solutions as part of fluid volume expansion and resuscitation (with or without improvement of hypoalbuminaemia) compared with those who received control fluids (crystalloid or colloid), were included if all-cause mortality outcome data were available. No restriction of language, date, publication status, or primary study endpoint was applied.

Data extraction Two reviewers independently assessed articles for inclusion, extracted data to assess risk of bias, trial methods, patients, interventions, comparisons, and outcome. The relative risk of all-cause mortality was calculated using a random effects model accounting for clinical heterogeneity.

Primary outcome measure All-cause mortality at final follow-up.

Results Eighteen articles reporting on 16 primary clinical trials that included 4190 adults in critical or intensive care with sepsis, severe sepsis, or septic shock. A median of 70.0 g daily of pooled human albumin was received over a median of 3 days by adults with a median age of 60.8 years as part of fluid volume expansion and resuscitation, with or without correction of hypoalbuminaemia. The relative risk of death was similar between albumin groups (that received a median of 175 g in total) and control fluid groups (relative risk 0.94; 95% confidence interval 0.87 to 1.01; P=0.11; I2=0%). Trial sequential analysis corrected the 95% confidence interval for random error (0.85 to 1.02; D2=0%). Eighty eight per cent of the required information size (meta-analysis sample size) of 4894 patients was achieved, and the cumulative effect size measure (z score) entered the futility area, supporting the notion of no relative benefit of albumin (GRADE quality of evidence was moderate). Evidence of no difference was also found when albumin was compared with crystalloid fluid (relative risk 0.93; 0.86 to 1.01; P=0.07; I2=0%) in 3878 patents (GRADE quality of evidence was high; 79.9% of required information size) or colloid fluids in 299 patients (relative risk 1.04; 0.79 to 1.38; P=0.76; I2=0%) (GRADE quality of evidence was very low; 5.8% of required information size). When studies at high risk of bias were excluded in a predefined subgroup analysis, the finding of no mortality benefit remained, and the cumulative z score was just outside the boundary of futility. Overall, the meta-analysis was robust to sensitivity, subgroup, meta-regression, and trial sequential analyses.

Conclusions In this analysis, human albumin solutions as part of fluid volume expansion and resuscitation for critically unwell adults with sepsis of any severity (with or without baseline hypoalbuminaemia) were not robustly effective at reducing all-cause mortality. Albumin seems to be safe in this setting, as a signal towards harm was not detected, but this analysis does not support a recommendation for use.


  • Contributors: AP had the idea, then planned and conducted the study with SJB, MAL, and UW. AP and SJB performed the literature search and selected studies, AP and UW extracted study data, AP and MAL assessed risk of bias, AP performed statistical analysis and wrote the manuscript. All authors assisted in formulation of the research question, assessed quality of evidence, contributed to and developed the final manuscript, and had full access to all of the data.

  • Funding: This research was not directly funded. AP is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) Chain-Florey Fellowship scheme based at the Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College London. All authors are supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre based at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, NIHR, or Department of Health. The research and authors are independent of funders.

  • Competing interests All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

  • Transparency The lead author (the manuscript’s guarantor) affirms that the manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.

  • Data sharing: No additional data available.

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