Timing of dialysis initiation to reduce mortality and cardiovascular events in advanced chronic kidney disease: nationwide cohort study

BMJ. 2021 Nov 29:375:e066306. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2021-066306.


Objective: To identify the optimal estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) at which to initiate dialysis in people with advanced chronic kidney disease.

Design: Nationwide observational cohort study.

Setting: National Swedish Renal Registry of patients referred to nephrologists.

Participants: Patients had a baseline eGFR between 10 and 20 mL/min/1.73 m2 and were included between 1 January 2007 and 31 December 2016, with follow-up until 1 June 2017.

Main outcome measures: The strict design criteria of a clinical trial were mimicked by using the cloning, censoring, and weighting method to eliminate immortal time bias, lead time bias, and survivor bias. A dynamic marginal structural model was used to estimate adjusted hazard ratios and absolute risks for five year all cause mortality and major adverse cardiovascular events (composite of cardiovascular death, non-fatal myocardial infarction, or non-fatal stroke) for 15 dialysis initiation strategies with eGFR values between 4 and 19 mL/min/1.73 m2 in increments of 1 mL/min/1.73 m2. An eGFR between 6 and 7 mL/min/1.73 m2 (eGFR6-7) was taken as the reference.

Results: Among 10 290 incident patients with advanced chronic kidney disease (median age 73 years; 3739 (36%) women; median eGFR 16.8 mL/min/1.73 m2), 3822 started dialysis, 4160 died, and 2446 had a major adverse cardiovascular event. A parabolic relation was observed for mortality, with the lowest risk for eGFR15-16. Compared with dialysis initiation at eGFR6-7, initiation at eGFR15-16 was associated with a 5.1% (95% confidence interval 2.5% to 6.9%) lower absolute five year mortality risk and 2.9% (0.2% to 5.5%) lower risk of a major adverse cardiovascular event, corresponding to hazard ratios of 0.89 (95% confidence interval 0.87 to 0.92) and 0.94 (0.91 to 0.98), respectively. This 5.1% absolute risk difference corresponded to a mean postponement of death of 1.6 months over five years of follow-up. However, dialysis would need to be started four years earlier. When emulating the intended strategies of the Initiating Dialysis Early and Late (IDEAL) trial (eGFR10-14 v eGFR5-7) and the achieved eGFRs in IDEAL (eGFR7-10 v eGFR5-7), hazard ratios for all cause mortality were 0.96 (0.94 to 0.99) and 0.97 (0.94 to 1.00), respectively, which are congruent with the findings of the randomised IDEAL trial.

Conclusions: Very early initiation of dialysis was associated with a modest reduction in mortality and cardiovascular events. For most patients, such a reduction may not outweigh the burden of a substantially longer period spent on dialysis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Glomerular Filtration Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nephrology / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Registries
  • Renal Dialysis / methods
  • Renal Dialysis / mortality*
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / complications
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / therapy*
  • Sweden
  • Time Factors
  • Time-to-Treatment / statistics & numerical data*