Differences in dialysis practice are the main reasons for the high mortality rate in the United States compared to Japan

Hemodial Int. 2003 Jan 1;7(1):67-71. doi: 10.1046/j.1492-7535.2003.00008.x.


The cumulative survival of Japanese hemodialysis patients is more than 2.5 times better than that of dialysis patients in the United States (U.S.). The difference is particularly pronounced in older patients, being 4 times better in patients over the age of 50 years. The mortality in U.S. patients has increased from 10 to 25% over the last three decades, but has remained stable at around 10% in Japan. There is no obvious difference in patient selection. The Japanese accept almost as high a proportion of diabetic patients as does the United States, and the mean age of incident patients is higher in Japan. Renal transplantation, virtually absent in Japan, should increase mortality in U.S. dialysis patients by removing patients with the highest probability of survival, but even if one adds surviving transplant patients and studies prevalent populations, the survival rate is much better in Japan. Genetic factors are unlikely to explain differences in mortality, as older Americans live much longer than older Japanese. We speculate that the difference lies in the practice of dialysis. Patients in the United States are generally treated by much faster and shorter dialysis than in Japan. This puts a severe burden on the cardiovascular system of older patients, leading to the poorer survival rate. Japanese physicians also appear to be better trained in dialysis and to spend more time with their patients. The nursing shortage in the United States may also contribute to the increased mortality. Whatever the explanations, the U.S. dialysis community must work to equal and, hopefully, surpass the now superior survival of Japanese dialysis patients.