Patient Care

Diluted Apple Juice Versus Electrolyte Solution in Gastroenteritis


Clinical Question: Is diluted apple juice inferior to apple-flavored electrolyte oral rehydration solution in children with mild dehydration due to acute gastroenteritis?

Dr. Stubblefield

Dr. Stubblefield

Background: In the setting of acute gastroenteritis, teaching has classically been that the simple sugars in juice and sports drinks can worsen diarrhea and that they could cause hyponatremia since they are not isotonic. Due to this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an electrolyte oral rehydration solution for children with dehydration and acute gastroenteritis. These solutions are more expensive and less palatable than juices. The authors sought to determine if diluted apple juice versus electrolyte oral rehydration fluid decreased the need for IV fluids, hospitalization, return visits, prolonged symptoms, or ongoing dehydration in mildly dehydrated children with acute gastroenteritis.

Study Design: Randomized single-blind non-inferiority prospective trial.

Setting: Single large tertiary-care pediatric emergency room.

Synopsis: Over five years, 3,668 patients were identified. Inclusion criteria were age >6 months or 8 kg of weight; Clinical Dehydration Scale score

Patients were challenged with small aliquots of these solutions and given ondansetron if they vomited. Upon discharge, they were sent home with 2 L of their solution. In the control arm, families were instructed to use this solution to make up for any ongoing losses. In the experimental arm, families were instructed to provide whatever fluids they would prefer. Follow-up was via phone, mail, and in-person reassessments. Patients were considered to have failed treatment if they required hospitalization, IV fluids, or a repeat unscheduled visit to a physician or experienced diarrhea lasting more than seven days or worsening dehydration on follow-up.

In the experimental arm, 16.7% of patients failed treatment (95% CI, 12.8%–21.2%) compared to 25% in the control arm (95% CI, 20.4%–30.1%; P < 0.001 for non-inferiority, P = .006 for superiority). The experimental arm also required IV fluids (2.5% versus 9%) significantly less often, though without a significantly decreased rate of hospitalization. These differences were present primarily in children >24 months old. No difference in the frequency of diarrheal stools was found, and no episodes of significant hyponatremia occurred.

Bottom Line: Giving children with mild dehydration due to acute gastroenteritis diluted apple juice and preferred fluids rather than the currently recommended electrolyte oral rehydration solution leads to decreased treatment failures and decreased need for IV fluids. There was no evidence of worsened diarrhea or significant hyponatremia.

Citation: Freedman SB, Willan AR, Boutis K, Schuh S. Effect of dilute apple juice and preferred fluids vs electrolyte maintenance solution on treatment failure among children with mild gastroenteritis: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2016;315(18):1966-1974. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.5352.

Dr. Stubblefield is a pediatric hospitalist at Nemours/Alfred I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and assistant professor of pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

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