Sodium bicarbonate to improve physical function in patients over 60 years with advanced chronic kidney disease: the BiCARB RCT

Miles D. Witham (Lead / Corresponding author), Margaret Band, Huey Chong, Peter T. Donnan, Geeta Hampson, May Khei Hu, Roberta Littleford, Edmund Lamb, Philip A. Kalra, Gwen Kennedy, Paul McNamee, Deirdre Plews, Petra Rauchhaus, Roy L. Soiza, Deepa Sumukadas, Graham Warwick, Alison Avenell

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Background: Advanced chronic kidney disease is common in older people and is frequently accompanied by metabolic acidosis. Oral sodium bicarbonate is used to treat this acidosis, but evidence is lacking on whether or not this provides a net gain in health or quality of life for older people.

Objectives: The objectives were to determine whether or not oral bicarbonate therapy improves physical function, quality of life, markers of renal function, bone turnover and vascular health compared with placebo in older people with chronic kidney disease and mild acidosis; to assess the safety of oral bicarbonate; and to establish whether or not oral bicarbonate therapy is cost-effective in this setting.DesignA parallel-group, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trial.SettingThe setting was nephrology and geriatric medicine outpatient departments in 27 UK hospitals.ParticipantsParticipants were adults aged ≥ 60 years with advanced chronic kidney disease (glomerular filtration rate category 4 or 5, not on dialysis) with a serum bicarbonate concentration of < 22 mmol/l.InterventionsEligible participants were randomised 1 : 1 to oral sodium bicarbonate or matching placebo. Dosing started at 500 mg three times daily, increasing to 1 g three times daily if the serum bicarbonate concentration was < 22 mmol/l at 3 months.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was the between-group difference in the Short Physical Performance Battery score at 12 months, adjusted for baseline. Other outcome measures included generic and disease-specific health-related quality of life, anthropometry, 6-minute walk speed, grip strength, renal function, markers of bone turnover, blood pressure and brain natriuretic peptide. All adverse events were recorded, including commencement of renal replacement therapy. For the health economic analysis, the incremental cost per quality-adjusted life-year was the main outcome.

Results: In total, 300 participants were randomised, 152 to bicarbonate and 148 to placebo. The mean age of participants was 74 years and 86 (29%) were female. Adherence to study medication was 73% in both groups. A total of 220 (73%) participants were assessed at the 12-month visit. No significant treatment effect was evident for the primary outcome of the between-group difference in the Short Physical Performance Battery score at 12 months (–0.4 points, 95% confidence interval –0.9 to 0.1 points; p = 0.15). No significant treatment benefit was seen for any of the secondary outcomes. Adverse events were more frequent in the bicarbonate arm (457 vs. 400). Time to commencement of renal replacement therapy was similar in both groups (hazard ratio 1.22, 95% confidence interval 0.74 to 2.02; p = 0.43). Health economic analysis showed higher costs and lower quality of life in the bicarbonate arm at 1 year, with additional costs of £564 (95% confidence interval £88 to £1154) and a quality-adjusted life-year difference of –0.05 (95% confidence interval –0.08 to –0.01); placebo dominated bicarbonate under all sensitivity analyses for incremental cost-effectiveness.LimitationsThe trial population was predominantly white and male, limiting generalisability. The increment in serum bicarbonate concentrations achieved was small and a benefit from larger doses of bicarbonate cannot be excluded.

Conclusions: Oral sodium bicarbonate did not improve a range of health measures in people aged ≥ 60 years with chronic kidney disease category 4 or 5 and mild acidosis, and is unlikely to be cost-effective for use in the NHS in this patient group. Once other current trials of bicarbonate therapy in chronic kidney disease are complete, an individual participant meta-analysis would be helpful to determine which subgroups, if any, are more likely to benefit and which treatment regimens are more beneficial.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN09486651 and EudraCT 2011-005271-16. The systematic review is registered as PROSPERO CRD42018112908.FundingThis project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 24, No. 27. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-120
Number of pages120
JournalHealth Technology Assessment
Issue number27
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020



ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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