BACKGROUND: Pre-existing chronic renal failure is a significant risk factor for acute renal failure (ARF) after cardiac surgery. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has been shown to prevent contrast media-induced ARF. Our objective was to evaluate whether i.v. NAC has renoprotective effects in patients with mild renal failure undergoing cardiac surgery. METHODS: In this prospective, randomized, double-blind study, 80 patients with mild to moderate renal failure undergoing elective heart surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass were recruited. All received either i.v. NAC (n=38) or placebo (n=39) at induction of anaesthesia and then up to 20 h. Urine N-acetyl-beta-D-glucosaminidase (NAG) and urine creatinine ratio, plasma creatinine, and serum cystatin C levels indicated renal function. RESULTS: Levels of urinary NAG/creatinine ratio, plasma creatinine and serum cystatin C did not significantly differ between NAC and placebo groups during five postoperative days. Urine NAG/creatinine ratio increased over 30% in 100% of patients in the NAC group vs 92.3% in the placebo group (P=0.081). Plasma creatinine increased by 25% from baseline or over 44 mumol litre(-1) in 42.1% in NAC group vs 48.7% in placebo group (P=0.560). Serum cystatin C exceeded 1.4 mg litre(-1) in 78.9% in NAC group vs 61.5% in placebo group (P=0.096). CONCLUSIONS: Prophylactic treatment with i.v. N-acetylcysteine had no renoprotective effect in patients with pre-existing renal failure undergoing cardiac surgery.
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