Renal Failure and Dialysis Sufferers: What the EMS Supplier Ought to Know

June 1, 2005 0 Comments

Your crew is dispatched to a neighborhood dialysis heart for a affected person experiencing chest ache. The dispatcher advises that your affected person is a 56-year-old male, who was present process hemodialysis when he skilled chest ache. Upon your arrival, the dialysis technician stories that the affected person was asymptomatic when he began hemodialysis. Dialysis was uneventful till two liters of fluid have been eliminated. The affected person then developed substernal chest ache, delicate shortness of breath and dizziness. His very important indicators then confirmed pulse 118, respiratory fee 26 and blood strain 80/52. The dialysis technician gave a 500cc fluid bolus and put the affected person into the Trendelenburg place. The affected person remained symptomatic, so dialysis was stopped and EMS was known as. The technician additionally tells you that the affected person is dialyzed three days per week; his dry weight is 88 kg, and he weighed 92 kg earlier than dialysis right this moment. His previous medical historical past consists of diabetes difficult by persistent renal failure and coronary artery illness. Realizing that this affected person has renal failure, you’ll be able to focus your historical past and bodily examination accordingly.

Anatomy and Physiology

EMS suppliers are known as on to deal with sufferers with renal failure for quite a lot of causes. It is very important perceive renal anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology and, in some circumstances, the dialysis process to evaluate and deal with these sufferers.

The kidneys are positioned within the retroperitoneal area (behind the stomach cavity), simply contained in the decrease ribs. Blood enters the kidneys by way of the renal arteries that department instantly from the stomach aorta. After coming into the kidney, the blood is filtered because it passes by way of a collection of constructions known as nephrons, that are the important useful models of the kidney. There are over 1,000,000 nephrons within the kidney, every divided into two elements: the glomerulus and the tubule. The glomerulus could be considered a “ball of capillaries” surrounded by a “funnel” often called Bowman’s capsule. These capillaries have particular fenestrated partitions that enable filtration to happen. Stress within the capillaries forces fluid, electrolytes and different molecules by way of the holes of the capillary partitions, creating “filtrate.” Bigger constituents, corresponding to purple blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and enormous proteins, usually are not capable of move by way of the fenestrations. As soon as the filtrate is shaped, it flows by way of the tubule, the place it’s modified to grow to be urine. Within the tubule, vital fluid and electrolytes are returned to the bloodstream, whereas additional “waste” merchandise are secreted into the filtrate. The newly shaped urine then flows from the tubules to the gathering ducts, on to the renal pelvis, then to the ureter. Every ureter carries urine from a kidney to the bladder, the place it’s saved till it’s expelled from the physique by way of the urethra throughout urination.

Features of the Kidney

The kidneys preserve the quantity and composition of blood and different bodily fluids. They’re a serious regulator of blood strain, fluid stability, electrolyte stability and acid-base homeostasis. These very important organs additionally operate to rid the physique of waste, stimulate purple blood cell manufacturing and produce urine. The kidneys filter the quantity of fluid in your physique 4 instances a day. A complete of fifty gallons of blood movement by way of the kidneys every day.

Modification of urine is carried out by way of the trade of elements between the filtrate and the blood that surrounds the tubule. One a part of the tubule significantly related to EMS is the loop of Henle. It’s on this a part of the tubule that sodium, potassium and chloride are faraway from the filtrate and reintroduced again into the blood. That is vital as a result of furosemide (Lasix) and all different “loop” diuretics work by blocking this course of. We all know that water follows sodium. The discount within the return of sodium to the blood ends in an elevated quantity of water being retained within the urine for excretion from the physique. Sadly, extra potassium additionally stays within the urine when this mechanism is blocked, making these sufferers inclined to hypokalemia.

Renal Failure

Renal failure happens when there’s a important lower or precise cessation of kidney operate. Renal failure sufferers lose the flexibility to take away toxins from the blood, preserve fluid and electrolyte stability, management blood strain and produce purple blood cells. Because of this, these sufferers can develop congestive coronary heart failure (as a consequence of fluid overload), electrolyte problems, bleeding problems, anemia and signs associated to toxin accumulation.

Renal failure is split into two primary sorts: acute and persistent. Acute renal failure often has an abrupt onset, an identifiable trigger, and, most often, is reversible. Continual renal failure (CRF) is a longstanding, smoldering sickness that isn’t reversible. The progressive failure of the kidneys in these sufferers will end in loss of life if left untreated. The definitive remedy for persistent renal failure is kidney transplantation. Dialysis is used whereas sufferers are awaiting transplantation, or if they aren’t a candidate for this surgical procedure.


Dialysis supplies synthetic kidney operate to sufferers with out functioning kidneys. The essential idea of dialysis is simple: to position a semipermeable membrane between blood and a particular fluid known as dialysate and permit strain and diffusion to stability electrolytes between the 2 fluids, whereas drawing waste merchandise and extra water out of the blood and into the dialysate. The semipermeable membrane solely permits small particles and water to cross, similar to the capillaries within the glomerulus.

EMS suppliers might encounter two varieties of dialysis. The most typical is hemodialysis, which is mostly carried out in a specialised medical setting. Throughout hemodialysis, blood is faraway from the physique by way of a shunt and directed right into a machine the place the dialysis course of takes place. The dialyzed blood is then pumped again into the physique by way of the identical shunt.

The opposite kind—peritoneal dialysis— includes inserting dialysate instantly into the affected person’s peritoneal cavity. The pure lining of the stomach cavity (the peritoneum) is used because the semipermeable membrane by way of which diffusion happens. Diffusion happens between dialysate within the peritoneal cavity and blood vessels adjoining to the peritoneum. Sufferers are required to instill and take away dialysate into their stomach by way of a surgically created port as much as 4 instances a day. Peritoneal dialysis could be completed at dwelling with none direct supervision by medical personnel, nevertheless it requires energetic participation of the affected person or his/her caregiver. Since a peritoneal dialysis port doesn’t enter blood vessels, it can’t be used for vascular entry.

Shunts, Fistulas and Grafts

For hemodialysis, the required blood movement is larger than a peripheral vein can deal with. This elevated demand requires {that a} line be used to entry massive vessels. When a affected person first undergoes hemodialysis, entry is often obtained utilizing a central catheter positioned in both the subclavian or the inner jugular vein. Sufferers requiring long-term dialysis want a extra everlasting answer, often from an arteriovenous (A-V) shunt, or a connection between an artery and vein. This permits for big movement charges and could be executed surgically utilizing considered one of two strategies: a fistula or a graft (Determine 1).

A fistula is shaped by surgically connecting the partitions of an artery to the partitions of a vein. Fistulas are often created in a affected person’s higher extremities.

A graft is created by connecting the artery and vein with an artificial tube. Grafts are additionally often positioned in a affected person’s higher extremities.

As a result of elevated vascular strain in an extremity the place an A-V shunt has been created, EMS suppliers ought to keep away from any extremity with a shunt when beginning an IV or measuring blood strain. If an ALS supplier can not get hold of IV entry in a life-or-death state of affairs, an IV catheter could also be inserted into the A-V shunt as a final resort, if native protocol permits. It is very important word that, if that is used, care ought to be taken to correctly clear these websites previous to IV insertion. These ports could be simply contaminated or broken, with important long-term implications for the affected person. If the affected person continues to be on the dialysis heart when EMS determines that emergency entry is important, ask the dialysis heart workers to acquire entry. They’re skilled on this space and may reduce the potential for problems. If the affected person has a number of shunts, ask which shunt is energetic. It’s not unusual for an previous, nonfunctional shunt to be left in place. In case your affected person has shunts in each arms, it’s acceptable to make use of the nonfunctional aspect for procedures and blood pressures.

Chosen Problems of
Renal Failure


Uremia is the time period used to explain the indicators and signs which might be usually current in a affected person with inadequately handled renal failure. Uremia can current with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weak point, dyspnea, irritated and itchy pores and skin (pruritis), headache and bruising or irregular darkening of the pores and skin (hyperpigmentation). The remedy for uremia is dialysis.

Fluid Overload

Fluid overload is brought on by a discount within the physique’s capability to excrete fluid by way of the urine. It could manifest as hypertension, peripheral edema, ascites or pulmonary edema. The definitive remedy for fluid overload in a CRF affected person is dialysis, however medicines inflicting vascular dilation, corresponding to nitroglycerin, can be utilized as a temporizing measure. Additionally, if the CRF affected person has some residual renal operate, diuretics can generally be useful.


Anemia is outlined as a deficiency of hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying materials in purple blood cells). Pink blood cell manufacturing is stimulated by a protein produced within the kidneys known as erythropoietin. As renal operate decreases, erythropoietin secretion diminishes. With out erythropoietin, purple blood cell manufacturing decreases, inflicting anemia. Because of this, most sufferers with end-stage renal illness have anemia as a pure course of the illness. To compensate, CRF sufferers usually obtain weekly doses of erythropoietin.


The kidneys play a big half in blood strain administration. Virtually all sufferers with kidney failure have hypertension. Many require a number of medicines to manage their blood strain, however the definitive remedy for acute hypertension in these sufferers is dialysis. Hypertension alone, though unhealthy, doesn’t require pressing remedy except it’s related to signs of end-organ injury, corresponding to chest ache or altered psychological standing (that is known as a hypertensive emergency). EMS suppliers who’re managing sufferers with a suspected hypertensive emergency ought to make liberal use of on-line medical management.

Potassium Homeostasis

Hyperkalemia, or excessive potassium, is a typical complication of renal failure. Malfunctioning kidneys usually are not capable of successfully take away potassium from the physique. With continued dietary consumption of potassium, blood ranges might enhance. Sufferers can also current with hypokalemia (low potassium ranges) if they’re on an aggressive potassium-restricted weight-reduction plan, are improperly dialyzed or overuse loop diuretics with out potassium supplementation. The popularity and remedy of hyperkalemia are important factors for EMS suppliers to grasp. Though renal failure sufferers can tolerate larger ranges of potassium of their blood, hyperkalemia can result in cardiac toxicity and trigger deadly dysrhythmias if left untreated. Attribute ECG modifications are proven within the accompanying field, as is the emergency remedy of hyperkalemia. Calcium stabilizes the cardiac cell membranes, however doesn’t scale back potassium degree within the blood, whereas insulin, sodium bicarbonate and beta agonists trigger a discount in serum potassium ranges. Be aware that when insulin is used to cut back hyperkalemia, it have to be given together with glucose to keep away from inflicting hypoglycemia.

Coronary Artery Illness

Continual diabetes not often causes renal failure with out additionally inflicting coronary artery illness and peripheral neuropathy (nerve degeneration). Because of this, sensory nerves from the guts will not be totally useful and traditional signs of myocardial ischemia, corresponding to chest ache, will not be current. A excessive degree of suspicion for acute coronary syndrome have to be maintained in CRF sufferers.

Problems of Dialysis

EMS suppliers are ceaselessly known as on to take care of persistent renal failure sufferers, each between and through dialysis therapies. The prehospital supplier ought to perceive the next problems which will happen with dialysis.


Hypotension is the commonest complication of dialysis. Fifteen to 30 % of sufferers expertise hypotension throughout dialysis, often for both (or each) of two causes. First, 300–400cc of blood is drawn into the dialysis machine throughout hemodialysis, quickly decreasing complete blood quantity. Second, in each hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, the method might take away fluid quicker than the physique can compensate. As with every different trigger, hypotension throughout dialysis results in decreased tissue perfusion, which may manifest as dizziness, weak point, syncope, altered psychological standing, angina, arrhythmia, seizures or myocardial ischemia. Hypotension is usually managed by dialysis heart workers by decreasing the hemodialysis movement fee, administering a fluid bolus and inserting the affected person within the Trendelenburg place. Often, the affected person’s signs proceed and EMS known as. Prehospital take care of these sufferers consists of normal remedy of hypotension (i.e., fluid resuscitation) and another presenting issues.

Disequilibrium Syndrome

Disequilibrium syndrome, which may happen throughout or instantly following hemodialysis, outcomes from a discount of the blood urea degree relative to the degrees present in mind tissues. Urea, which is faraway from the blood throughout dialysis, is an osmotic agent and causes a fluid shift from the vascular area into the cerebral area. This may end up in cerebral edema and elevated intracranial strain. It could current with headache, nausea, vomiting, altered psychological standing or seizures. Supportive care is the suitable prehospital remedy (which can embody intubation and hyperventilation). If seizures happen, they need to be managed with benzodiazepines.


Occult inside bleeding might happen throughout dialysis. Dialysis sufferers have decreased platelet operate and are administered heparin (an anticoagulant) throughout dialysis to stop blood from clotting within the dialysis machine and its tubing. As a result of systemic results of the heparin, suppliers should preserve a excessive degree of suspicion for stomach, GI and intracranial bleeding.

Each exterior and inside shunts could cause profuse bleeding if they’re ruptured. Bleeding can happen secondary to trauma, or after routine puncture for hemodialysis. Heparin is added to blood because it goes by way of the dialysis machine (to keep away from clotting), and this may occasionally exacerbate the issue. Shunt hemorrhage ought to be handled as an arterial bleed and ought to be managed with direct strain and elevation of the affected extremity.

Tools Malfunction

Tools malfunction can introduce an air embolus or overseas physique right into a affected person’s vasculature throughout dialysis. An air embolus enters the venous aspect of the bloodstream and proceeds to the proper coronary heart the place it’s damaged up right into a frothy answer, just like blowing bubbles in a glass of milk. This froth can impede the pulmonary circulation. Air emboli might current with indicators and signs just like a pulmonary embolism, with an acute onset of chest ache, shortness of breath, hypotension and diaphoresis. Remedy consists of oxygen and simultaneous left lateral decubitus and the Trendelenburg positioning. This can be a life-threatening complication, and EMS suppliers ought to transfer quickly, speaking with medical management to advise the receiving hospital if the situation is suspected by both the EMS supplier or dialysis heart workers.

Remedy Elimination

One other complication of renal failure is the inadvertent elimination of therapeutic medicines throughout dialysis. Renal failure sufferers are prone to have a number of medical issues and could also be on a number of medicines. Sure medicines are eliminated through the dialysis course of. For example, a affected person with a seizure dysfunction managed by the anticonvulsant gabapentin (Neurontin) might grow to be extra inclined to seizures after dialysis if the dosage has not been adjusted for the quantity eliminated through the process.

Evaluation of Renal Failure Sufferers

EMS suppliers ought to concentrate on sure particulars of a historical past and bodily examination when introduced with a renal failure affected person.

1. Historical past

A complete evaluation ought to embody details about previous dialysis and problems. If fluid overload is suspected, get hold of a weight-reduction plan historical past to incorporate current salt, potassium and fluid consumption. If the affected person is on the dialysis heart, get hold of details about the present dialysis session from the power workers. Acceptable particulars embody the dialysis schedule, how lengthy the affected person has been on dialysis, the affected person’s dry weight and the way a lot fluid was eliminated earlier than the session was terminated. A affected person’s dry weight is the estimated weight of the affected person in regular fluid stability. (That is useful in figuring out how a lot fluid to take away throughout dialysis, since one liter of fluid weighs one kilogram.)

2. Bodily Evaluation

The overall bodily evaluation of renal failure sufferers is just like that of another affected person, however some areas require extra consideration. These embody fluid standing, psychological standing, cardiac rhythm and shunt location. When analyzing these sufferers, you will need to elevate your index of suspicion for related medical issues corresponding to arrhythmias, inside bleeding, hypoglycemia, altered psychological standing and seizures.

3. Fluid Standing

Take into account the medical state of affairs when evaluating your affected person. After dialysis, sufferers usually tend to be hypovolemic and current with chilly, clammy pores and skin; poor pores and skin turgor; tachycardia and hypotension. Alternatively, sufferers who’ve delayed dialysis will seemingly be hypervolemic, and thus may have indicators of fluid overload corresponding to irregular lung sounds (crackles), generalized edema, hypertension or jugular venous distension.

4. Psychological Standing

Altered psychological standing could be troublesome to guage within the area, nevertheless it is a crucial indicator of great underlying pathology. As with every affected person, altered psychological standing within the CRF affected person could also be brought on by plenty of pathologies. Keep in mind that the CRF affected person is usually additionally diabetic and could also be vulnerable to hypoglycemia.

5. Cardiac Rhythm

Evaluation of cardiac rhythm is important in each symptomatic renal failure affected person. A 12-lead electrocardiogram can point out underlying electrolyte problems, cardiac ischemia or doubtlessly malignant arrhythmias.

Remedy Misconceptions

As a result of renal failure and dialysis are sometimes misunderstood, there are misconceptions about applicable remedy. If EMS suppliers have questions on applicable remedy of the renal failure affected person, liberal use of on-line medical management ought to be thought of. In conversations with medical management physicians, it will be important that they perceive you’re coping with a affected person with renal illness. It’s also vital to notice whether or not or not the presenting drawback occurred across the time the affected person obtained dialysis.

Widespread misconceptions embody the next:

Fluid Administration: “These sufferers can’t excrete fluid, so I’ll put them into pulmonary edema if I give any fluids.” Whereas this can be true within the fluid-overloaded affected person, it doesn’t imply that IV fluids ought to be withheld from a renal failure affected person who’s in want of fluid resuscitation. Hypovolemic or hypotensive sufferers ought to obtain a fluid bolus when indicated. In distinction, EMS suppliers ought to be cautious to restrict fluids in sufferers who don’t want fluid resuscitation. IV fluids which might be inadvertently left extensive open can definitely trigger injury to renal failure sufferers. Renal failure sufferers sometimes are troublesome to acquire IV entry for, and though a number of makes an attempt ought to be averted, when IV entry is indicated, it shouldn’t be deferred just because a affected person has renal failure.

Diuretic Administration: “The kidneys don’t work, so what good is a diuretic?” Some end- stage renal failure sufferers proceed to have a point of residual kidney operate. The truth is, these sufferers might retain as much as 20% of regular renal operate. Thus, a affected person who presents in pulmonary edema might reply to a big dose of a loop diuretic like furosemide (Lasix). The sufferers themselves will be capable to inform the EMS supplier whether or not they nonetheless make urine, which can point out whether or not diuretics might be efficient in growing urine output. Renal failure sufferers usually require massive doses of diuretics, so the EMS supplier ought to search medical management if obligatory. It is very important word that along with reducing fluid quantity by way of elevated renal excretion, furosemide causes venodilation and so has a secondary therapeutic impact in fluid overload.

Morphine Administration: “I do know the tip merchandise of morphine are excreted by the kidney, so I’m afraid they are going to construct to poisonous ranges within the renal failure affected person.” It’s true that the metabolites of morphine are excreted by way of the renal system, and that morphine doses ought to be lowered in long-term remedy for a renal failure affected person. However within the emergency setting, it’s secure to manage morphine when it’s indicated beneath native protocol (corresponding to for pulmonary edema or myocardial infarction).


EMS suppliers usually encounter renal failure sufferers, and it’s important for all suppliers to grasp the anatomy, physiology and pathology concerned with renal failure and dialysis. A historical past and bodily examination tailor-made to the particular considerations of renal failure is fascinating and will allow the supplier to establish issues that will in any other case be missed.


  • American Academy of Household Physicians. Affected person Info: The best way to Deal with Your Excessive Blood Stress with Way of life Modifications. American Household Doctor 50:1, July 1994.
  • Bledsoe BE, Porter RS, Shade BR. Paramedic Emergency Care, third Ed. Higher Saddle River, NJ: Brady Prentice Corridor, 1997.
  • Campbell NA. Biology. third Ed. New York: Benjamin Cummings Publishing, Inc., 1993.
  • Costanzo LS. Physiology. Philadelphia: Williams and Wilkins, 1995.
  • Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Isselbacher KJ, et al. Harrison’s Rules of Inner Medication, 14th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
  • Netter FH. The Ciba Assortment of Medical Illustrations, Quantity 6: Kidneys, Ureters, and Urinary Bladder. West Caldwell, NJ: CIBA Pharmaceutical Firm, 1979.
  • Pons PT, Cason DC. Paramedic Subject Care. St. Louis, MO: Mosby-12 months Guide, Inc., 1997.
  • Rose BD, Rennke HG. Renal Pathophysiology. Philadelphia: Williams and Wilkins, 1995.
  • Stedman’s Concise Medical Dictionary. Philadelphia: Williams and Wilkins, 1997.
  • Virginia Commonwealth College Medical School of Virginia, Division of Nephrology, M2 Renal Syllabus. Unpublished academic doc, November, 1997.

The authors want to thank the next people for his or her help in reviewing this text: Joseph Ornato, MD, professor and chair, Division of Emergency Medication, and Todd Gehr, MD, Division of Inner Medication Division of Nephrology, each of the Virginia Commonwealth College Medical School of Virginia, Richmond, VA; Christopher Cowen, AEMT-CC, and Heather Wilson, AEMT-CC, each of Potsdam Rescue Squad, Potsdam, NY.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *