Fatigue in patients receiving maintenance dialysis: a review of definitions, measures, and contributing factors

Am J Kidney Dis. 2008 Aug;52(2):353-65. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2008.05.005. Epub 2008 Jun 24.


Fatigue is a debilitating symptom or side effect experienced by many patients on long-term dialysis therapy. Fatigue has a considerable effect on patient health-related quality of life and is viewed as being more important than survival by some patients. Renal providers face many challenges when attempting to reduce fatigue in dialysis patients. The lack of a reliable, valid, and sensitive fatigue scale complicates the accurate identification of this symptom. Symptoms of daytime sleepiness and depression overlap with fatigue, making it difficult to target specific therapies. Moreover, many chronic health conditions common in the long-term dialysis population may lead to the development of fatigue and contribute to the day-to-day and diurnal variation in fatigue in patients. Key to improving the assessment and treatment of fatigue is improving our understanding of potential mediators, as well as potential therapies. Cytokines have emerged as an important mediator of fatigue and have been studied extensively in patients with cancer-related fatigue. In addition, although erythropoietin-stimulating agents have been shown to mitigate fatigue, the recent controversy regarding erythropoietin-stimulating agent dosing in patients with chronic kidney disease suggests that erythropoietin-stimulating agent therapy may not serve as the sole therapy to improve fatigue in this population. In conclusion, fatigue is an important and often underrecognized symptom in the dialysis population. Possible interventions for minimizing fatigue in patients on long-term dialysis therapy should aim at improving health care provider awareness, developing improved methods of measurement, understanding the pathogenesis better, and managing known contributing factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytokines / blood
  • Fatigue* / blood
  • Fatigue* / diagnosis
  • Fatigue* / etiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / metabolism
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Quality of Life
  • Renal Dialysis / adverse effects*
  • Time Factors


  • Cytokines