Risk of death has decreased for children initially treated with dialysis for ESKD

In a study that included more than 20,000 patients, there was a significant decrease in the United States in mortality rates over time among children and adolescents initiating end-stage kidney disease treatment with dialysis between 1990 and 2010, according to a study in the May 8 issue of JAMA. The study is being released early online to coincide with its presentation at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting.

“Individuals with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) face a significantly shortened life expectancy. In no group of ESKD patients is the loss of potential years of life larger than in children and adolescents. Although transplant remains the treatment of choice to maximize survival, growth, and development, 75 percent of children with ESKD require treatment with dialysis prior to receiving a kidney transplant. Dialysis is therefore a life-saving therapy for children with ESKD while they await transplant. Nevertheless, all-cause mortality rates in children receiving maintenance dialysis are at least 30 times higher than the general pediatric population, with even higher relative risks in very young children,” the authors write. “There have been substantial improvements in the care of children with ESKD between 1990 and 2010. However, to our knowledge, it is not known if mortality has changed over time in the United States, particularly in recent years.”

Mark M. Mitsnefes, M.D., M.Sc., of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and colleagues conducted a study to determine if all-cause, cardiovascular, and infection-related mortality rates have changed between 1990 and 2010 among patients younger than 21 years of age with ESKD initially treated with dialysis and if changes in mortality rates over time differed by age at treatment initiation. The researchers used data from the United States Renal Data System. Children with a prior kidney transplant were excluded.

The researchers identified 23,401 children and adolescents who met study criteria.

Crude mortality rates during dialysis treatment were higher among children younger than 5 years at the start of dialysis compared with those who were 5 years and older. The authors found that the all-cause mortality risk decreased progressively over calendar time for both those younger than 5 years and those 5 years and older at initiation. There was also a decrease over calendar time for cardiovascular and infection-related mortality risk among children younger than 5 years at initiation and among those 5 years and older.

“Numerous factors may have contributed to the observed reductions in mortality risk over time. Improved pre-dialysis care, advances in dialysis technology, and greater experience of clinicians may each have played a role,” the authors write.

What is end-stage kidney disease (ESKD)?

  End-stage kidney disease (ESKD) is the most severe form of chronic kidney disease, also known as Stage 5 chronic kidney disease (CKD) or kidney failure.
  People with ESKD generally experience a range of symptoms and abnormalities in several organ systems due to severe loss of kidney function.
  Kidney replacement therapy (KRT) in the form of dialysis or a kidney transplant is required for survival when kidney function is no longer sufficient to sustain life.

“Almost all children initiating ESKD treatment are considered eligible for transplant. However, most will require dialysis during their lifetime, either before transplant or after allograft loss. In the United States, there was a significant decrease in mortality rates over time among children and adolescents initiating ESKD treatment with dialysis between 1990 and 2010. Further research is needed to determine the specific factors responsible for this decrease.”

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) and renal failure (RF) have been recognized as significant medical problems for most of the last 2 centuries and, until relatively recently, were uniformly fatal. Scientific and technologic improvements during the second half of the 20th century provided renal replacement therapy as a life-sustaining option for many individuals who otherwise may have died. The impact of these medical advancements has been remarkable.

Chronic kidney disease is characterized by an irreversible deterioration of renal function that gradually progresses to end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Chronic kidney disease has emerged as a serious public health problem. Data from the United States Renal Data System (USRDS) show that incidence of kidney failure is rising among adults and is commonly associated with poor outcomes and high cost.  Moreover, in the past 2 decades, the incidence of the chronic kidney disease in children has steadily increased, with poor and ethnic minority children disproportionately affected.

The major health consequences of chronic kidney disease include not only progression to kidney failure but also an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines support early recognition and treatment of chronic kidney disease–related complications to improve growth and development and, ultimately, the quality of life in children with this chronic condition. Appropriate pediatric care may reduce the prevalence of this complex and expensive condition.

Definition of chronic renal disease

The definition and classification of chronic renal disease may help identify affected individuals, possibly resulting in the early institution of effective therapy. To achieve this goal, the Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative (KDOQI) working group of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) defined chronic kidney disease as “evidence of structural or functional kidney abnormalities (abnormal urinalysis, imaging studies, or histology) that persist for at least 3 months, with or without a decreased glomerular filtration rate (GFR), as defined by a GFR of less than 60 mL/min per 1.73 m2.”

Note, however, that the above definition is not applicable to children younger than 2 years, because they normally have a low GFR, even when corrected for body surface area. In these patients, calculated GFR based on serum creatinine can be compared with normative age-appropriate values to detect renal impairment.


Major causes of ESKD

Diabetes and diabetic nephropathy

Diabetes occurs when the body produces too little or none of the sugar regulating hormone insulin, or cannot use it properly. High blood sugar levels can damage the blood-filtering capillaries in the kidneys.


Glomerulonephritis involves inflammation and damage of the filtering units of the kidneys (glomeruli), affecting their ability to filter waste products and excess water from the blood. Chronic glomerulonephritis can be caused by infections, immune diseases, inflammation of the blood vessels or conditions that scar the glomeruli, however often the cause is unknown.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) can damage the blood vessels supplying the kidneys. The walls of these blood vessels become thick and the internal diameter narrowed, leading to reduced blood supply and decreased kidney function. Factors that contribute to high blood pressure include, age, obesity, high alcohol consumption and high dietary salt.

(JAMA. 2013;309(18):1921-1929; Available pre-embargo to the media at http://media.jamanetwork.com)

Editor’s Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.


Julie Robert
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