Background: Several controversies have developed over acute renal failure (ARF) definition and treatment: which approach to patient care is most desirable and which form of renal replacement therapy (RRT) should be applied is an everyday matter of debate. There is also disagreement on clinical practice for RRT including the best timing to start, vascular access, anti-coagulation, membranes, equipment and finally, if continuous or intermittent techniques should be preferred. In this lack of harmony, the epidemiology of ARF has recently displayed an outbreak of cases in the intensive care units and nephrologists and intensivists are now called to work together in the case of such a syndrome.
Subjects and methods: We report on the responses of 560 contributors, mostly coming from Europe, to a questionnaire submitted during the third International Course on Critical Care Nephrology held in Vicenza, Italy in June 2004. The questionnaire was divided into several sections concerning demographic and medical information, definition of ARF, practice of RRT, current opinions about clinical advantages and problems related to different RRTs and modalities, and beliefs on alternative indications to extracorporeal treatments.
Results: More then 200 different definitions of ARF and about 90 RRT start criteria were reported. Oliguria and RIFLE (an acronym classifying ARF in different levels of severity: Risk of renal dysfunction; Injury to the kidney; Failure of kidney function; Loss of kidney function; End-stage kidney disease.) were the most frequent criteria used to define ARF. In 10% of centres all forms of renal replacement techniques are available, and in 70% of cases two or more different techniques are available: absolute analysis of different techniques showed that continuous renal replacement therapies are utilized by 511 specialists (91%), intermittent haemodialysis by 387 (69%) and sustained low efficiency dialysis by 136 (24%). Treatment prescription showed significant differences among specialists, 60% of intensivists being uncertain on RRT dose prescription compared to 40% of nephrologists (P = 0.002). The most frequently selected dosage was '35 ml/kg/h' for urea (25%) and creatinine targets (26%), and '2-3 l/h' for the septic dose (25%). Of the participants, 90% said that they used RRT for non-renal indications, 60% although responders admitted the lack of scientific evidence as a limiting factor to its use.
Conclusions: New classifications such as RIFLE criteria might improve well-known uncertainty about ARF definition. Different RRT techniques are available in most centres, but a general lack of treatment dose standardization is noted by our survey. Non-renal indications to RRT still need to find a definitive role in routine practice.