CRF Treatment

Once CRF has been diagnosed, the physician attempts to determine the cause and, if possible, plan a specific treatment. Nonspecific treatments are implemented to delay or possibly arrest the progressive loss of kidney function.

Control hypertension (high blood pressure)—Target systolic blood pressure (BP) is 120 to 135 mm Hg; target diastolic BP is 70 to 80 mm Hg. Antihypertensive medication from the ACE class is preferable because of protective effects on the kidneys.

Restrict dietary protein—Dietary protein is broken down into amino acids and absorbed from the stomach into the blood. The amino acids are taken from the bloodstream and used to build muscle and perform other essential functions. Excess amino acids are further broken down into carbohydrates and nitrogen-containing waste that is eliminated by the kidneys. Amino acid disposal further burdens the kidneys, and is believed to speed the progression of CRF. This process is like forcing a damaged machine to work harder, causing it to break down sooner than expected.

Affected patients must be cautious not to overdo protein restriction, because it can lead to malnutrition and muscle wasting. Moderate protein restriction for a CRF patient is about 0.6 to 0.8 gm/kg/day, which is effectively achieved by following the advice of a dietician.

Manage pre-end-stage renal disease (pre-ESRD)—Treatment for pre-ESRD should begin once the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) falls below 30 milliliters per minute (< 30 mL/min). Pre-ESRD management includes the identification and treatment of anemia (low red blood cell count). When the GFR drops below 30 mL/min, anemia often develops because the kidneys produce an inadequate amount of erythropoetin (EPO). This hormone is made by the kidneys and travels to the bone marrow, where it stimulates red blood cell production. Anemic patients are candidates for EPO (Procrit®) injections to maintain their hematocrit (volume percent of red blood cells in whole blood) between 30% and 36%.

Identify and Treat Secondary Hyperparathyroidism—With the loss of kidney function, phosphate accumulates in the blood. Excess phosphate in the blood reduces levels of blood calcium, and low blood calcium levels trigger the parathyroid gland (located in the neck) to release more parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH then dissolves bone tissue to release stored calcium and raise the level of calcium in the blood. This chronic cycle of events is called secondary hyperthyroidism.

The net result of this condition is the development of metabolic bone disease (renal osteodystrophy). These patients are at risk for bone fractures, bone and muscle pain, which can sometimes be accompanied by severe itching, and cardiovascular complications. Severe itching is thought to be in part due to the elevated circulating PTH level itself.

Patients with secondary hyperthyroidism should limit their intake of foods that are high in phosphate (e.g., dairy products, colas). Many patients must take medication with meals that binds the phosphate (phosphate-binders) and prevents it from being absorbed into the blood and allows it to be excreted in the stool (feces). In general, calcium based salts (e.g., TUMS, Oscal) have been the phosphate-binders prescribed. A new organic based phophate-binder called renagel also is available and, although it is more expensive, it has many advantages over the calcium based phosphate-binders.

Most patients also require a potent vitamin D supplement (e.g., calcitrol, hexitrol), which helps to suppress excess PTH production. The final metabolic step in the synthesis of vitamin D occurs normally in the kidney and there is often a deficiency of this vitamin in these patients.

Cinacalcet hydrochloride (e.g., Sensipar™) may be used alone or in combination with Vitamin D supplements or phosphate-binders to treat patients with secondary hyperparathyroidism who are on dialysis. Sensipar tablets should be taken with food and the dosage varies, depending on calcium and phosphate levels in the blood. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Preparation for Renal Replacement Therapy (RRT)

Early preparation is important. The health care team educates the patient about the different procedures involved in RRT, which include the following:

  • Hemodialysis—removal of toxic elements from the blood, which is filtered through a membrane while circulated outside of the body
  • Peritoneal dialysis—filtration through the lining membrane of the abdominal cavity; fluid is instilled into the peritoneal space, then drained
  • kidney transplantation

It is important to place an arteriovenous fistula (AVF)—a passage between an artery and a vein that provides a suitable blood vessel for repeated dialysis—at least 3 months prior to beginning hemodialysis, because an AVF requires 3 months to mature before it can be used.

The health care team can address the patient's fears and anxieties about treatment and can clarify the financial, emotional, and social concerns of RRT.

Prognosis for Patients with Chronic Renal Failure

CRF is often insidious in its onset and progression. The rate of progression is variable but usually renal function steadily declines resulting in end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 May 2001

Last Modified: 23 May 2011