Background: Acute renal failure (ARF) requiring dialysis in critically ill patients is associated with an in-hospital mortality rate of 50 to 80%. The worldwide standard for renal replacement therapy is intermittent hemodialysis (IHD). Continuous hemodialysis and hemofiltration techniques have recently emerged as alternative modalities. These two therapies have not been directly compared.
Methods: A multicenter, randomized, controlled trial was conducted comparing two dialysis modalities (IHD vs. continuous hemodiafiltration) for the treatment of ARF in the intensive care unit (ICU). One hundred sixty-six patients were randomized. Principal outcome measures were ICU and hospital mortality, length of stay, and recovery of renal function.
Results: Using intention-to-treat analysis, the overall ICU and in-hospital mortalities were 50.6 and 56.6%, respectively. Continuous therapy was associated with an increase in ICU (59.5 vs. 41.5%, P < 0.02) and in-hospital (65.5 vs. 47.6%, P < 0.02) mortality relative to intermittent dialysis. Median ICU length of stay from the time of nephrology consultation was 16.5 days, and complete recovery of renal function was observed in 34.9% of patients, with no significant group differences. Despite randomization, there were significant differences between the groups in several covariates independently associated with mortality, including gender, hepatic failure, APACHE II and III scores, and the number of failed organ systems, in each instance biased in favor of the intermittent dialysis group. Using logistic regression to adjust for the imbalances in group assignment, the odds of death associated with continuous therapy was 1.3 (95% CI, 0.6 to 2.7, P = NS). A detailed investigation of the randomization process failed to explain the marked differences in patient assignment.
Conclusions: A randomized controlled trial of alternative dialysis modalities in ARF is feasible. Despite the potential advantages of continuous techniques, this study provides no evidence of a survival benefit of continuous hemodiafiltration compared with IHD. This study did not control for other major clinical decisions or other supportive management strategies that are widely variable (for example, nutrition support, hemodynamic support, timing of initiation, and dose of dialysis) and might materially influence outcomes in ARF. Standardization of several aspects of care or extremely large sample sizes will be required to answer optimally the questions originally posed by this investigation.