Dialysis Fistula or Graft: The Role for Randomized Clinical Trials
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The Fistula First Initiative has strongly encouraged nephrologists, vascular access surgeons, and dialysis units in the United States to make valiant efforts to increase fistula use in the hemodialysis population. Unfortunately, the rigid "fistula first" recommendations are not based on solid, current, evidence-based data and may be harmful to some hemodialysis patients by subjecting them to prolonged catheter dependence with its attendant risks of bacteremia and central vein stenosis. Once they are successfully cannulated for dialysis, fistulas last longer than grafts and require fewer interventions to maintain long-term patency for dialysis. However, fistulas have a much higher primary failure rate than grafts, require more interventions to achieve maturation, and entail longer catheter dependence, thereby leading to more catheter-related complications. Given the tradeoffs between fistulas and grafts, there is equipoise about their relative merits in patients with moderate to high risk of fistula nonmaturation. The time is right for definitive, large, multicenter randomized clinical trials to compare fistulas and grafts in various subsets of chronic kidney disease patients. Until the results of such clinical trials are known, the optimal vascular access for a given patients should be determined by the nephrologist and access surgeon by taking into account (1) whether dialysis has been initiated, (2) the patient's life expectancy, (3) whether the patient has had a previous failed vascular access, and (4) the likelihood of fistula nonmaturation. Careful clinical judgment should optimize vascular access outcomes and minimize prolonged catheter dependence among hemodialysis patients.
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