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Both “liberal” and “goal-directed” (GD) therapy use a large amount of perioperative fluid, but they appear to have very different effects on perioperative outcomes. We sought to determine whether one fluid management strategy was superior to the others.We selected randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on the use of GD or restrictive versus liberal fluid therapy (LVR) in major adult surgery from MEDLINE, EMBASE, PubMed (1951 to April 2011), and Cochrane controlled trials register without language restrictions. Indirect comparison between the GD and LVR strata was performed.A total of 3861 patients from 23 GD RCTs (median sample size = 90, interquartile range [IQR] 57 to 109) and 1160 patients from 12 LVR RCTs (median sample size = 80, IQR36 to 151) were considered. Both liberal and GD therapy used more fluid compared to their respective comparative arm, but their effects on outcomes were very different. Patients in the liberal group of the LVR stratum had a higher risk of pneumonia (risk ratio [RR] 2.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.0 to 4.5), pulmonary edema (RR 3.8, 95% CI 1.1 to 13), and a longer hospital stay than those in the restrictive group (mean difference [MD] 2 days, 95% CI 0.5 to 3.4). Using GD therapy also resulted in a lower risk of pneumonia (RR 0.7, 95% CI 0.6 to 0.9) and renal complications (0.7, 95% CI 0.5 to 0.9), and a shorter length of hospital stay (MD 2 days, 95% CI 1 to 3) compared to not using GD therapy. Liberal fluid therapy was associated with an increased length of hospital stay (4 days, 95% CI 3.4 to 4.4), time to first bowel movement (2 days, 95% CI 1.3 to 2.3), and risk of pneumonia (RR ratio 3, 95% CI 1.8 to 4.8) compared to GD therapy.Perioperative outcomes favored a GD therapy rather than liberal fluid therapy without hemodynamic goals. Whether GD therapy is superior to a restrictive fluid strategy remains uncertain.