January 2011

More Frequent Dialysis Helps Kidney Patients

Kidney patients fare better on an almost-daily hemodialysis regimen than on the standard 3-times-a-week plan, scientists report. Although more research is needed, the finding could lead to changes in the standard of care for patients who need dialysis.

Nearly 400,000 Americans depend on dialysis to survive. These treatments are needed when kidneys fail and can no longer remove waste products from the body. In the most common kind of dialysis, hemodialysis, your blood flows through a special filter that removes wastes and extra fluids. The clean blood is then returned to your body.

Despite recent advances in technology and medication, up to 1 in 5 patients on dialysis die each year. NIH-funded scientists set out to test whether adding more dialysis sessions could improve patients’ survival and well-being.

The researchers randomly assigned nearly 250 dialysis patients to 2 groups. One group received 6 treatments a week. The other received 3 treatments each week.

The scientists found that patients receiving more frequent dialysis had improvements in heart health and blood pressure, as well as in overall health. More frequent treatments also helped avoid high blood levels of phosphate, which are often a problem for patients on dialysis. A downside is that access to blood vessels needed to be modified about twice as often in patients who received more treatments.

The scientists couldn’t address whether more frequent treatments affected death rates. Still, this study offers hope that simple changes to current dialysis treatments could greatly improve the health of the patients who need them.