Symptom management in patients with established renal failure managed without dialysis

EDTNA ERCA J. 2006 Apr-Jun;32(2):93-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-6686.2006.tb00459.x.


Increasing numbers of patients with chronic kidney disease Stage 5 (GFR <15ml/minute) are being managed without dialysis, either through their own preference or because dialysis is unlikely to benefit them. This growing group of patients has extensive health care needs. Their overall symptom burden is high, and symptom prevalence matches or exceeds that in other end of life populations, both with cancer and other non-cancer diagnoses. These symptoms may often go unrecognised and under-treated. Regular symptom assessment is necessary, together with pro-active management of identified symptoms. Pain can be managed using the principles of the World Health Organisation analgesic ladder. Not all opioid medications are recommended for these patients. Paracetamol, tramadol, and fentanyl are the most appropriate medications for steps 1, 2 and 3 respectively. There is limited evidence on the use of buprenorphine, oxycodone and hydromorphone. Methadone is safe but should only be prescribed by a clinician experienced in its use. Morphine and diamorphine are not recommended because of metabolite accumulation. Pruritus is also challenging to manage. The evidence for pharmacological interventions to alleviate pruritus is summarized, and a pragmatic approach to management suggested. Emollients, capsaisin cream, antihistamines, thalidomide and ondansetron may be helpful, according to the extent and pattern of pruritus. Symptoms may frequently be due to co-morbid conditions, not renal disease itself, and managing them is difficult because of the constraints on the use of medication which kidney failure imposes. Collaboration between renal and palliative specialists can help identify ways to achieve best care for these patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Anorexia / prevention & control
  • Anxiety / prevention & control
  • Constipation / prevention & control
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Dyspnea / prevention & control
  • Fatigue / prevention & control
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic* / complications
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic* / prevention & control
  • Nausea / prevention & control
  • Nephrology / organization & administration
  • Nursing Assessment
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pruritus / etiology
  • Pruritus / prevention & control*
  • Renal Dialysis
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / prevention & control


  • Analgesics