Withdrawal of renal replacement therapy in Newcastle upon Tyne: 1964-1993

C Catalano, T H Goodship, K A Graham, C Marino, A L Brown, J S Tapson, M K Ward, R Wilkinson
Nephrology, Dialysis, Transplantation 1996, 11 (1): 133-9

BACKGROUND: Termination of renal replacement therapy (RRT) is common in North America and Australia but is considered to be rare in Europe.

METHODS: In order to review the phenomenon of RRT termination in all patients treated in Newcastle upon Tyne between 1964 and 1993 a retrospective study of clinical case notes was undertaken. In all RRT patients sex, age at start of RRT, renal diagnosis and history of RRT were recorded. In addition, mortality data and marital and residential status were recorded in all patients who died, and Karnofsky index, bodyweight, complications, history of bereavement, place of death, overall survival, survival after withdrawal of treatment, other medical problems, higher mental function and surgical history in all patients stopping treatment.

RESULTS: 1639 patients started RRT between 1964 and September 1993 inclusive. Eighty-eight patients were identified in whom death was a result of treatment being stopped (17% of all deaths). The first was in 1985. In these patients, age was greater (62 vs 47 years, P < 0.001) and diabetes was more prevalent (15 vs 7%, P < 0.03) than in the total RRT population. The Karnofsky index was 70 at the start and 33 at withdrawal of treatment (P < 0.001). The Karnofsky index at the start of RRT was weakly related to that at withdrawal and overall survival (r = 0.36 and 0.28 respectively, P < 0.01). The Karnofsky index at treatment withdrawal correlated with the following survival (r = 0.40, P < 0.001). The median survival of patients stopping treatment was significantly lower than in all RRT patients (16 vs 74 months, P < 0.001) and the majority survived less than 2 years. After dialysis withdrawal the median survival was 8 days, 15 patients survived 3 days or less and 19 more than 10 days. The majority (80%) received terminal care in hospital. At treatment withdrawal 11 patients were demented and 34 showed signs of early dementia. Seventy-eight patients (89%) stopped treatment as a consequence of multiple medical problems. The possibility of dialysis withdrawal was raised by physicians in 50.5%, the patient in 23.8% and the patients' relatives in 21.9% of cases. Four patients (3.8%) committed suicide.

CONCLUSIONS: Death from dialysis termination is a relatively common cause of death in RRT patients in Newcastle upon Tyne. These patients are older with a higher prevalence of diabetes. In 89% of cases the decision to stop treatment was related to multiple medical problems with a recent deterioration. Physicians raised the issue of withdrawal in the majority of cases and most patients subsequently received terminal care in hospital.


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