Let’s Apply Common Sense to Dialysis: More is Better

This blog post was made by Dori Schatell, MS, Executive Director, Medical Education Institute on October 22nd, 2015.
Let’s Apply Common Sense to Dialysis: More is Better

Every once in a while, a conference messes up my identification badge and promotes me to MD. Despite working in the nephrology field for 25 years, though, I’m not a clinician of any ilk, but a writer, editor, sometimes researcher, advocate, and close observer. And, the luxury of being out of day-to-day patient care and able to look at the big picture can be useful. At the risk of being simplistic, healthy kidneys work 24/7—yet we replace their continuous, 168-hour a week function with “adequate” treatments of just 10.5 to 12 hours a week. What follows are some points that string together in my head to form a common-sense Gestalt:

  1. More hours of hemodialysis = no need for phosphate binders

    High serum phosphate levels predict higher all-cause mortality on dialysis.2 Phosphorus is present in both meat and vegetable proteins, and is thus unavoidable, though intake can be reduced. Yet, a metaanalysis found that low-cost, calcium-based binder options raise the risk of blood vessel calcification3—but new classes of phosphate binders can cost hundreds of dollars per month. Dialysis guru John Daugirdas recently observed that 18-30 hours of dialysis are required each week to obviate the need for binders.4

  2. More hours of hemodialysis control blood pressure without antihypertensives

    This is not a new finding: we’ve known since nocturnal HD studies began to reappear in the early 2000s that slower, gentler, more thorough ultrafiltration conducted over longer hours would naturally reduce blood pressure.5

  3. Converting from standard in-center HD to nocturnal in-center reduces left ventricular mass

    Even done three times a week in a clinic, longer, slower HD not only protects the heart’s main pumping chamber—it can reverse damage that has already occurred, finds a study by Wald et al.6 After a year, 37 patients who converted to in-center nocturnal had a 14.2% reduction in left ventricular mass, along with fewer antihypertensives. (They still needed binders, though.)

  4. Pregnant women on dialysis have an 85% chance of a live birth—IF they get 36+ hours of dialysis a week.

    Pregnancy is rare among women who require dialysis, but when it does happen, it can be successful. Michelle Hladunewich and her group7 compared pregnancy outcomes in Canada (n=22) with those from the US (n=70), and, as always, the Canadian women fared better. The Canadian pregnancies lasted a median of 36 weeks, vs. just 27 for American women: a tremendous difference in terms of the risks of preterm birth complications and lifelong disability. Intensifying treatment to 36 hours a week or more made it possible for women to have healthy babies.

Maybe it’s just me. But, taken together, these various findings seem to point in a single direction: the human body works better with cleaner blood, cleaner cells, cleaner tissues. People feel better and tend to live longer when their kidney replacement mimics natural kidney function as closely as possible. Carl Kjellstrand, who is an MD and has a PhD made this observation 40 years ago, in 1975,8 and he was right. Isn’t it well past time that we update U.S. dialysis practices so more people benefit?

  1. Elsayed ME, Ferguson JP, Stack AG. Association of height with elevated mortality risk in ESRD: variation by race and gender. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2015 Oct 1, pii: ASN2014080821 [Epub ahead of print].
  2. Rivara MB, Ravel V, Kalantar-Zadeh K, Streja E, Lau WL, Nissenson AR, Kestenbaum B, de Boer IH, Himmelfarb J, Mehrotra R. Uncorrected and Albumin-Corrected Calcium, Phosphorus, and Mortality in Patients Undergoing Maintenance Dialysis. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2015 Jul;26(7):1671-81. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2014050472. Epub 2015 Jan 22.
  3. Wang C, Liu X, Zhou Y, Li S, Chen Y, Wang Y, Lou T. New conclusions regarding comparison of sevelamer and calcium-based phosphate binders in coronary-artery calcification for dialysis patients: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 31;10(7):e0133938. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133938. eCollection 2015.
  4. Daugirdas JT. Removal of Phosphorus by Hemodialysis. Semin Dial. 2015 Sep 11. doi: 10.1111/sdi.12439. [Epub ahead of print].
  5. Nesrallah G, Suri R, Moist L, Kortas C, Lindsay RM. Volume control and blood pressure management in patients undergoing quotidian hemodialysis. Am J Kidney Dis. 2003 Jul;42(1 Suppl):13-7
  6. Wald R, Goldstein MB, Perl J, Kiaii M, Yuen D, Wald RM, Harel Z, Weinstein JJ, Jakubovic B, Leong-Poi H, Kirpalani A, Leipsic J, Dacouris N, Wolf M, Yan AT. The association between conversion to in-centre nocturnal hemodialysis and left ventricular mass regression in patients with end-stage renal disease. Can J Cardiol. 2015 Jul 9. Pii: S0828-282X(15)00518-8. Doi: 10.1016/j.cjca.2015.07.004 [Epub ahead of print]
  7. Hladunewich MA, Hou S, Odutayo A, Cornelis T, Pierratos A, Goldstein M, Tennankore K, Keunen J, Hui D, Chan CT. Intensive hemodialysis associates with improved pregnancy outcomes: a Canadian and United States cohort comparison. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014 May;25(5):1103-9. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2013080825. Epub 2014 Feb 13.
  8. Kjellstrand CM, Evans RL, Petersen RJ, Shideman JR, von Hartitzch B, Buselmeier TJ. The “unphysiology” of dialysis: a major cause of dialysis side effects? Kidney Int Suppl. 1975 Jan;(2):30-4


  • JohnAgar

    Oct 25, 2015 3:50 AM


    Not sure about #1 (the study on tall vs short) ... is it BMI? is it weight, if it surface area, how skinny were the talls, how fat the shorts ... this whole 'thing' about body habitus and its relationship to morbidity and mortality is very complex, very 'iffy'.

    Just saying ....

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    • Dori

      Oct 28, 2015 1:11 PM

      Oh, good point! That really is complicated. We've deleted that point and will move forward with common sense without it.

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