Background: Limited data exist describing vascular access conversions during the first year on dialysis therapy or the effect of converting to and from a catheter on subsequent mortality risk.
Study design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting & participants: We studied a random sample of incident US hemodialysis patients (initiated long-term dialysis < 30 days before study entry) in the Dialysis Outcomes and Practice Patterns Study (DOPPS; 1996-2004).
Predictors: At dialysis therapy initiation, we assessed vascular access type in use (arteriovenous fistula [AVF], arteriovenous graft [AVG], or catheter) and other patient characteristics. We characterized changes in vascular access type (conversions) by using regularly collected functional status information.
Outcome & measurements: We assessed time to all-cause mortality. We first described conversions, then used time-dependent Cox regression to estimate mortality hazard ratios (HRs) for conversions from a catheter to a permanent vascular access (versus no conversion) and conversions from a permanent vascular access to a catheter (versus no conversion).
Results: The study included 4,532 patients; 69.2% were dialyzing with a catheter; 17.6%, with an AVG; and 13.1%, with an AVF. In patients initiating therapy with an AVF or AVG, 22% experienced a conversion (failure), and median times to first failure were 62 and 84 days, respectively. In catheter patients, 59% converted to an AVF/AVG (predominantly AVG [57%]); median times to first conversion were 92 and 66 days, respectively. Conversion to a permanent access was associated with an adjusted mortality HR of 0.69 (95% confidence interval, 0.55 to 0.85). The effect was similar for conversion to an AVF or AVG, and these persisted across demographic groups and facilities with different conversion practices. Conversion from a permanent vascular access to a catheter was associated with an adjusted mortality HR of 1.81 (95% confidence interval, 1.22 to 2.68).
Limitations: Potential for residual confounding because of unmeasured factors influencing decision to convert.
Conclusion: Vascular access conversions are common in incident patients. Continued efforts to increase early nephrologist referral and permanent vascular access placement may help decrease mortality risk in incident dialysis patients.