Frequently Asked Questions



The following are some of the questions that have been received.  The answers are those that were returned by email. For ease, they are grouped under topic headings.

To protect contributor privacy, some questions have been edited.  Although I can not acknowledge them by name, I am grateful to all who have sent questions and comments.  Their efforts have helped to strengthen this web site.


Basic Issues


Why is Nocturnal Home Haemodialysis (NHHD) different to Automated Peritoneal Dialysis (APD)?

What are the prospects for NHHD in country areas?

What are the models of care in NHHD?

What do you mean by Flexible Dialysis?

Why is 6 nights/week better than alternate night NHHD and alternate night NHHD better than 3 nights/week NHHD?

What holds short daily and NHHD back? Why not for everyone?

What is the best dialysis possible (b) How is ‘good’ dialysis assessed (c) Are there web links to help decide what’s best   (c) What you would do in my position?

Can you tell me if people have any problems getting to sleep while on a machine during the night?

Do any of your patients have young children?

I live in rural Australia and travel 4 hours each dialysis day. Could do NHHD at home?

Would you say NHHD approaches the long-term outcomes of a transplant?  Is NHHD the best option for those who can’t be transplanted and/or for keeping patients on the transplant waiting list healthier while they wait?

I would like to know the criteria for a patient to receive satellite HD.




Can I really stop phosphate binders when switching to NHHD?

What are the nutritional challenges for nocturnal patients?

Are patients with cardiac problems good candidates for NHHD?

My parathyroid hormone (PTH) level is rising and my Zemplar dose is increasing. Is this normal?

Is it necessary take daily vitamins?

Have you any facts and figures on likely life expectancy in CHD and NHHD.

Can I return to work?




You talk about several things you use to ensure safety. How do I access these things?

You mention an electrode-impregnated tape to protect the access during sleep.  Can you tell me more about this?

How are the needles secured and protected during NHHD?


Blood Access


Is special taping of the access needed during sleep?

Will I have to have buttonholes if I do NHHD or will my current technique suffice?

What is the effect of longer dialysis on a fistula?

Is the frequent use of the fistula a concern? (b) What is the access method you have found best? (c) Is that access method sustainable over the long term? (d) Are any new access developments coming?


Technical Things


There are different dialysis membranes – ‘low flux’ and ‘high flux’. Does flux make a difference, and why?

Do I need a bigger Bibag or have to wake to change the bag during an 8 hour run?

You use lower NHHD flow rates than we do – why is this and aren’t high flow rates beneficial and necessary?

What needs ‘converting’ for the machine to be at home? Can I use my en-suite sink?  How long are the lines?




What costs are incurred in NHHD?

 Have you considered including the cost benefits of (1) fewer patient bed days/year and (2) the $ value of patients who no longer receive disability benefits and now pay tax?






Why is Nocturnal Home Haemodialysis (NHHD) different to Automated Peritoneal Dialysis (APD)?


In Australia, about 25% of all dialysis patients are on peritoneal dialysis (PD) and 75% on haemodialysis (HD). My own unit has some 30 PD and 110 HD patients and closely approximates the average national 'split' quite closely. About ½ of our PD patients are on automated peritoneal dialysis (APD) using Baxter Home Choice 2 machines while the other ½ use continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD), doing manual through-the-day 'bag exchanges'.


Do not, however, confuse the two techniques. HD and PD are quite separate and use quite different principles.


HD effectively 'washes (or filters) the blood'. Blood is removed from an ‘access’ device placed in a large blood vessel. ‘Access’ to the blood is (1) most often via a surgically created 'fistula' in the forearm or upper arm or (2) especially in the US, through a surgically inserted artificial blood vessel (graft) in the forearm or (3) from a jugular vein catheter at the base of the neck. The blood is then passed the blood through a filter (dialyser) inside which the wastes and excess fluid removal occurs. The cleansed blood is then returned back through the same ‘access’ device. 


PD is where a soft pliable tube called a Tenckhoff catheter is surgically placed into the tummy cavity through the front wall of the belly. Some get the wrong idea that this catheter goes into the stomach ... no - it goes into the cavity in which the abdominal organs lie, not into the organs themselves. Through this tube (or catheter), fluid is 'cycled' either during the day by the patient manually running 2-3 L of fluid in, leaving it to ‘dwell’ inside for a few hours before then draining it out and replacing it with fresh fluid. This usually requires ~4 cycles per day with each 'exchange' process taking 30-40 minutes. Alternatively, the same process can be done but in an automated fashion by a 'cycler' machine at night. This automated process is known as APD and though it is carried out through the night, it should not be confused with NHHD.


Though APD and NHHD both occur during sleep - and as I noted, we offer and encourage both - this is about the sum total of their similarities.


Both HD and PD are effective. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Some patients are more suited to one than the other.


Make no mistake: APD is an excellent treatment. It doesn't suit all patients - no single option in dialysis does. It’s a matter of sizing up all available choices (and there are many) and choosing the one that appears to be optimal for any one individual patient. This may depend on a range of factors - age, sex, geography, dexterity, vision and underlying disease - diabetics for example often do very well on peritoneal dialysis - etc etc.


Don’t confuse NHHD (a very specific and new form of HD) with APD (a very specific and long-available form of PD). The only real similarity is that they both are done during sleep and leave the daytime free. In that, I am personally a very strong believer in and advocate for both NHHD and APD.



What are the prospects for NHHD in country areas?


There are no absolute contraindications to NHHD in country areas though if the patient’s home doesn’t have ‘town water’ (a reticulated municipal water delivery system), some difficulties can result in both water quality and in adequate supply (volume). On the face of it, however, it is possible and practical in Australia in most circumstances. I am not able to comment with any certainty for countries other than Australia but here, we have used both tank water (collected roof-runoff rain water) and bore water with success.



What are the models of care in NHHD?


There are two basic 'models of care' in NHHD - 6 nights/week and 3.5 nights/week (i.e. 'rolling' alternate night dialysis). Both offer better-documented outcomes when compared to conventional HD. Both give extended hour dialysis (6 x 8 = 48 hrs and 3.5 x 8 = 28 hrs respectively) compared with conventional HD (3 x 4 = 12 hrs). The 6/week option is more expensive than 3.5/week - the consumables double - but 6/week still works out to be cheaper than conventional HD (no nurses, buildings or infrastructure supports are needed).


On the outcome side, my personal belief is that 6/week is superior to 3.5/week … for several reasons. Primarily, though, in the 6/week NHHD option there are no dietary or fluid restrictions needed. In 3.5/week NHHD option, there is a 2-day gap as distinct from a 1-day gap for 6/week NHHD. This does make a big difference in fluid and potassium balance. The dietary importance and freedoms of 6/week NHHD cannot be emphasised enough. The 'concertina-like’ expansion and contraction of the blood volume and of the heart remains an issue in 3.5/week NHHD but isn’t in the 6/week option. This gives 6/week NHHD a major cardiovascular health advantage. Though there are other differences, these predominate.



What do you mean by Flexible Dialysis?


Put simply, it means using all modalities in a flexible, match-to-patient-expectation-or-aspiration, lifestyle-conscious way. By using the budget savings from our NHHD program to maximum effect, we have been able to also establish the more costly short daily HD modality for those who either want or might benefit from it. The core idea of this ‘flexible’ or ‘lifestyle’ program is introduced in my website in Part 2 of the 'Three Contentious Issues' segment.



Why is 6 nights/week better than alternate night NHHD and alternate night NHHD better than 3 nights/week NHHD?


First, let’s deal with why the 3 night/week NHHD option is not as good as the alternate night (7 nights/fortnight or 3.5 nights/week) option – and I feel very, very strongly about this …


There is no question in my view that a rolling 2nd nightly program is better than the weekly routine of Mon/Wed/Fri or Tue/Thu/Sat HD (in any format). I believe (and there is good evidence to back up this belief) that the 'long break' of 3/week HD really stresses and stretches the circulation and the heart. This is really deleterious in the long term! If is can be avoided by switching to every 2nd night at least - then I believe it is wrong not to make the switch.


As for 6/week NHHD option, again I believe (and again there is evidence to back this belief) that 6/week is better than every second night ... in essence, the more the better.


I believe (as do others) that 6/week NHHD is the 'Rolls Royce" of available dialysis modalities and anything less is lesser ... though I think it is fair to say that the potential benefits of 3.5/week (alternate) NHHD over CHD are much greater than the advantage of 6/week over 3.5/week NHHD.



What holds short daily and NHHD back? Why not for everyone?


The HMO's in the US (the health management organisations which are the funding bodies for much of the dialysis done in the US) are, understandably, anxious about cost blowouts from more frequent dialysis techniques - whether in the home or in a centre. One can’t blame them. The 'upfront costs' are higher as NHHD uses more machines and more dialysers, lines and fluids. Later on though, the savings accrued from reduced staffing and infrastructure more than make up for the added consumable and equipment expenditure.


But, the math is irresistible! Higher upfront costs actually do translate into lower long-term expenditure and cheaper programs yet with far, far better patient outcomes.


However, and here's the nub of the problem, the benefits really don’t begin to outweigh the early costs until a program has gained a 'critical patient mass'. In our experience, this amounts to a program of ~10-12 patients in an enhanced frequency NHHD program. This makes it hard for programs to start because they will inevitably cost more to begin with and only gain a cost advantage once reasonable patient numbers have been sustained >12 months in the enhanced frequency program.


NHHD is clearly a cost winner as it is performed without a nurse and at home. More importantly but in addition, it results in a better health outcome for the patients by far. However, centre-based short daily HD will always be more expensive than conventional HD until it is possible to routinely perform short daily at home – as will eventually be the case once faster on-off technology allows easier, faster on-off times at home. Though NHHD clearly wins in health outcomes for the reasons given, it is seen by many ‘funding bodies as too expensive to consider. For any individual patient, though, this may seem harsh and unfair.


Enhanced frequency dialysis is far better – in my view, there is no doubt about it - but will the local health authority bear the early costs to reap the later outcome/health and cost reduction benefits? That’s the sticking point. We were successful in lobbying a forward thinking Health Department in Victoria along these lines and our predictions to them have proven correct, beyond our and their hopes, in both health outcomes and cost reductions.


Each area must, for the moment, fight its own fight but will do so with a growing body of evidence (including our experience and that of Pierratos, Lockridge, Ting, Kjellstrand and so many more) to support their argument for support for any new NHHD initiative.


What is the best dialysis possible (b) How is ‘good’ dialysis assessed  (c) Are there web links to help decide what’s best   (c) What you would do in my position?


3.5 x week (alternate day) and 5 hrs/treatment is about the best you can reasonably do on a daytime regime - but it is pretty restrictive and you are spending a lot of your waking time on dialysis. Nevertheless, the data is now overwhelming that more dialysis time and more dialysis frequency = better clinical outcomes.


It is dangerous to start me on the topic of dialysis adequacy – current methods (like Kt/V) make me see red – but Dimitri Oreopoulos, a ‘doyen of PD’ from Canada and the late Belding Scribner, the widely accepted and universally revered 'Father of HD’ from Seattle recently wrote a beautiful little paper together in Dialysis and Transplantation about ‘adequacy’. Oh, and by the by, adequate is, by definition inadequate – in my view only optimum is good enough!  Scribner and Oreopoulos proposed that dialysis adequacy should be measured not by mathematics but simply by what they dubbed "the Haemodialysis Product” (HDP). Their HPD was simply Time x Frequency2.


It is an easy article to read, is beautiful in its simplicity and makes the concepts of adequacy far easier to understand and more succinct. You can find the article at:




There is also a good 'comment' by Scribner at:




There is little to say other than - the more and the gentler the dialysis, the better the outcome and the symptom relief. Obviously, dialysis during the day is limited in time – after all, what is dialysis for but to allow you to continue to enjoy life. Living, simply for dialysis, is not living! But, the only practical way to increase dialysis time (a la Scribner) is to dialyse while asleep.


That said, how often?


In my view - and applying Scribner’s principles of Time x Frequency2 - there is an advantage to 5, 6 or (best) 7 nights/week over and above alternate nights (3.5/week) though this has to be offset against logistics and cost.


We undertook a pilot project for 6 nights/week - and feel there is greater benefit from this than from 3.5 nights/week - but it more also does cost more – though any home-based therapy is less expensive than any centre-based care. Our cost modeling shows 6nights/week NHHD is significantly cheaper than satellite and/or incentre once the initial number on the program exceeds ~10-12 patients.


Why do we believe 3.5/week is less ‘optimal’ than 6/week??


Well, alternate night patients must ‘last’ 40 hrs between treatments where 6 night/week patients only need last 16 hrs. Alternate night patients thus have > twice the time to accumulate fluid (volume) and solutes (wastes) – or twice as much to remove in the same time. This increases the need for a 3.5 patient to exercise both dietary control and fluid restriction. Potassium and phosphate accumulation looms too while, because of the greater fluid retention in alternate night patients, BP fluctuations and cardiac expansion and contraction are more pronounced (see my website http://www.nocturnaldialysis.org for details)


Alternate night NHHD is, in my view, heaps better than conventional HD but, again in my view 6 night/week NHHD is best.


How much better? And at what cost? And is the greater 'betterness' and the greater cost worth the trade? I dont know. Time will tell. What is not in doubt is that you will benefit from longer and more frequent dialysis – either/or or best, both.



Can you tell me if people have any problems getting to sleep while on a machine during the night?


Interestingly, this is an often unspoken but chief concern of many patients.

The answer is a complex one. It includes an understanding of and the solutions to perceptions ... though not necessarily realities ... of:
• anxiety
• fear
• chemical sleep
• sounds and lights
• partner disturbance
• physical discomfort
• trust (or distrust) in equipment and connections
• machine alarms

Anxiety and fear:
It is natural to be anxious of the unknown. To sleep on dialysis means placing trust and faith in the training you have had and in your ability to respond as trained to whatever might come your way ... and here it MUST be said that accidents can and do happen but they are rarely major and even more rarely health or life-threatening. We train you for the worst but the worst really almost never happens. The word that sticks out there is 'almost' ... we have had no dialysis-related home catastrophe's in the 6-7 years our program has run and the >100 patient years of our experience
[a patient year is the total number of patients trained (say 50) x sum of the total number of days that each of those patients has been on NHHD ... that may be 21 days in a patient who only began 3 weeks ago or 2190 days for a patient who has been on for exactly 6 years (6 x 365) and so on ... added up ... for each patient ever trained. After adding all the individual patient NHHD days together, the total is then divided by 365 for the days in the year to reach a final figure of 'patient years' of experience].
One can never say that nothing will ever go wrong. All we can say is that the risks in a well put-together program of major 'events' is vanishingly small.
That doesn't negate the anxiety any one individual faces when, after training - and training - and training - the day to start and self-care at home begins. We are heavy on reassurance and we still favour and adhere to the practice of a series of in-unit 'sleep-over' nights before home transfer to ensure lone but loosely monitored self-care ... the training nurse being down the hall but not intruding unless summoned.
The home transfer, despite all this does ... must ... make the steeliest heart quake. The first nights can be sleepless ... or fitful ... and we warn both patient (and partner if there is one ... remember many of our patients dialyse at home alone) of this early problem.
Reassurance is one thing - believing it is another. But, as the nights pass (uneventfully mostly) ... self confidence and equipment trust grows. Amazingly most actually sleep well, pretty much from the start. Some, it is true, don't! Here, we use (a) chemical sleep and (b) a variety of tricks.

Chemical Sleep
A few do need, early on, help with sleeping. An anxiolytic agent - like oxazepam - helps ... and in a decent dose - 30-45mg after connection. There are many ‘sleepers’ available and it is a matter of finding one that works well for you. We don't recommend chemical sleep becomes a routine ... but it can be useful for the 1st 2-3 weeks, then reducing it after that with an intention to drop it off entirely as soon as a new sleep pattern has developed. Some are afraid that if they are 'drugged' to sleep, they won’t wake to the alarms but we haven't found this to be the case at all.

Sounds and Lights
The machine (and especially the R/O) may make noises in the night. Though we are careful to test and source the quietest equipment we can, it remains and issue for some. The R/O can be placed through an adjacent wall in some homes ... removing it from the bedroom helps a lot ... and then there is the occupational therapy of building your own box to place over it - lined with a thick pile carpet to absorb any sounds!

I tell my patients the old Aesop fable about the country mouse and the town mouse ... think of yourself as the country mouse, coming to the noisy city mouse to stay. There is noise and distraction all around. Its hard to sleep for all the city sounds. You long for the quiet of the country night. But ... soon, the noises become more and more familiar. Sounds that disturbed you can be 'placed' - their causes learnt, their threat no longer threatening.

So it is with the sounds (and lights) of the machine. Some machines (sadly, not ours) have light dimmers ... we use a Geelong Cats Football Club tea-towel over the machine to block the lights! It works!

At the end of the day, the sounds become subliminal. Some even say the rhythmicity is soothing (like surf ... or the sounds of the I5 in Seattle became for us when we lived in an apartment for 3 months in 2006 perched on top of the freeway).

Some, I know, have used relaxation tapes/music/sound machines etc ... I prefer getting used to the sounds and building them into the pattern of sleep. Read for a while till the eyes feel heavy, turn on your preferred side and nod off.

Partner disturbance
A significant issue! Often it is the partner who lies, eyes open, through the night, waiting rigidly for their dialysis-dependent mate to stop breathing! We try to devote as much time to the partner as we do to the patient. Chemical sleep may be helpful there too. Recognition that the partner plays as big a role in this as the patient and/or the equipment is absolutely paramount. Reassurance is essential. Work with them. Include them. Listen to them. Share their fears. Do not laugh off their anxieties. Not to do this dooms the process to failure or recrimination ... never a good start.

Physical discomfort
Some patients lie, their arms rigid - to the point of muscular aching then cramping - fearful of moving. A well-secured fistula needle does not dislodge or disconnect! The training program must focus on good needling and good securing. Again ... and again! If done well and properly, the needles are secure, they don't fall out, the arm can move in sleep and the patient lie on either side, roll back and forth ... whatever is comfy. They should be encouraged to do so from the start. Immobility is not normal for good quality sleep ... and it is unnecessary. Don't promote it. Promote freedom and relaxation.

I cant think of a patient who had physical discomfort from the fistula itself ... once in a while the needle may be poorly sited - it happens - but this is rare. A fistula the causes pain is a fistula that needs medical/surgical review ... its not the NHHD at fault but is a mechanical issue that needs investigation and a solution.

Trust in machines and connections
Much of this is covered above. The machines we use are pretty damn good. They rarely malfunction. If they do ... literally once in a blue moon ... come off! Call the techs in the morning. Have it sorted (it always can be - even if they need to swap machines - on the next day) and then go on again the next night.

Trust in the connections? ... this is your training and your trainers role. Teaching you the right way leads to trust and certainty. Don't invent your own 'short-cuts' to this. Don't be tempted. Don't do it. DON'T. That is a recipe for disaster. Follow your training - always - never deviate. Do this and you can trust your connections - and sleep easy.

Machine alarms
Noisy little so-and-so's! But they are there for a purpose. 95%+ of all alarms are low arterial pressure alarms ... a kinked line. You have rolled and kinked the arterial line. Push 'mute' shake the kink out, push 'go' and go back to sleep.

Interestingly - and this is so true - most alarms will occur in those 1st 4-6 weeks following home-transfer. The frequency of alarms falls as you adjust and become more comfy with the machine in your home. But, some nights are a pain! The machine seems to be 'ornery', 'contrary'! It can be that the needle is up against a valve in the vein ... something just not right. These nights do happen. They happen to all patients. Not often. But they do happen.

The solution .............................. disconnect. Get a good nights’ sleep. Try the next night. Its not frequent that this is necessary, <1% of all treatments in our experience, but its not the end of the world if you have to pull the needles and start over the next night.

I hope that has helped with some of the answers to the ‘sleep’ question. Each of us is individual and, as a result, each of us needs individual solutions too. Work with your team. I hope, though, that some or all tips I have offered may help too.

Lastly - don't fight the machine. Don't see it as an enemy. See it as your ticket to life ... 'ornery' as it may be at times. Learn its quirks. Listen to it. Make friends with it. And above all ... trust it and yourself.

And as a last thought …
One thing that each patient (and partner if there is one) must be made aware of is that sleep will invariably be disturbed for the 1st 4-6 weeks. As this will pass and they will sleep soundly in due course, they should therefore NOT be too discouraged or disappointed by initial difficulties. Yes, it can be wearing to start with but our experience is that all do adjust, all will sleep well ... and that the quality of that sleep will markedly improve.

Chris Chan's group has studied sleep patterns and, in particular, sleep apnoea - a condition prevalent in >50% of conventional dialysis patients. Obstructive sleep apnoea is abolished in NHHD, the rate falling back to that of the non-dialysis normal renal function population.

Patients need to be reassured about this, be patient and be positive. Sleep quality will be better on NHHD then ever it was on conventional dialysis - its just they may have to wait 4-6 weeks to achieve that.




Do any of your patients have young children?


In short, the answer to your question is 'yes'. One man, now successfully transplanted after 9 months at home on NHHD has 3 school-aged children. Another, an older single parent male with an intellectually handicapped child (indeed she was the reason he wanted to do NHHD so he could be ‘there for her’ when she needed him during her waking hours) continues to enjoy good health on NHHD and manage his child where, before NHHD, he had significant management and absenteeism issues with her. A third, also now transplanted after 4 months of successful home NNHD, managed well with the 4 pre-teen kids of his partner prior to successful transplantation.



I live in rural Australia and travel 4 hours each dialysis day. Could do NHHD at home?


Water availability is one of the big issues for rural patients, especially if your home is not on ‘town water’. This might be an issue for you where you live, 2 hours out from Canberra. This said, we have two patients on NHHD in country Victoria; one on bore water and the other on tank water. With the right filter systems, dubious water quality can usually (but not always) be overcome.


The bigger issue is often an adequate water supply (volume) in our drought-prone country and can be a limiting factor. Remember, NHHD needs 300ml/min for ~8hrs a time. Alternate night NHHD has good outcomes and may be the more water-economical alternative but even this can severely stretch an individual home supply if it is not connected to a town supply.


Other than that, there is no obvious impediment to NHHD though I am not sure of your individual circumstance and your local team would be better placed to advise you.


Another significant problem can be for your dialyzing unit. Nighttime advice and/or help (though rarely needed) must be available and providing this back-up can be an issue where distance is a factor. Again, this is up to your unit to decide whether it is possible.


In most Australian states, many country and outback patients are supported at home from distant metropolitan centres and the mechanisms are in place to do this. You may also need to spend a month or so away from home to be trained and this may be a factor too. My advice is to discuss the problem with your team. They will not mind.



Would you say NHHD approaches the long-term outcomes of a transplant?  Is NHHD the best option for those who can’t be transplanted and/or for keeping patients on the transplant waiting list healthier while they wait?


I would certainly say ‘yes’ to the latter two ... in my opinion there is absolutely no question that NHHD is the best option for those that cannot have a transplant and for keep those patients on the transplant list ‘healthier' while they wait. NHHD fulfills both of these.


As for the first part of the question - 'that NHHD might, for ‘healthy’ patients, approach the long-term outcomes expected from a transplant?' - its too early to say that … and I doubt we ever could. We would need many more NHHD patients for far, far longer yet before comparable survival rates are possible between transplantation and NHHD. I cannot in my heart of hearts think, though, that NHHD will ever be as good as a good new human kidney!


Nevertheless, having said that, we have patients on NHHD who have had transplants ... three were ~10 year grafts.... and they say they feel as well as they did when they had good graft function and, they add, they don’t have to take all those immunosuppressant drugs. Certainly, their biochemistry on NHHD is generally as good as that of a transplant but, NHHD has its drawbacks - and, like the rest of dialysis, they are significant ones. There is the ‘drudge’ of dialysis (conventional/short daily/PD/NHHD ... ‘drudge’ is a fact with all dialysis modalities). We think (and the patients affirm) that NHHD is significantly better in this regard, but its still a drudge! And there are the usual dialysis risks (eliminated as best as we can) of infection (guarded against as best as we can) etc ... that add to the dialysis 'negatives'.


I believe implicitly that NHHD is head and shoulders above the other dialysis options. A wealth of data now confirms that ... but to rank it with a good transplant? ... no, in all conscience I cannot do that. As a nephrologist who is as much transplant-friendly as dialysis-friendly, I could never say that good dialysis was equal to a good transplant ... it just isn’t – and may never be. But, that doesn’t and shouldn’t prevent me striving to provide the best dialysis I can for as many of our patients that I can.



I would like to know the criteria for a patient to receive satellite HD.


As for 'criteria' for satellite dialysis ... that is a complex question as there are no hard and fast criteria.


Incentre patients are usually heavy workload, very nurse-dependent patients who are unable to do much for themselves. They commonly cannot assist the dialysis procedure in any way and are usually dependent on some measure of assisted transport and daily living care.


Satellite patients, in theory at least, are independent, able to self-care or assist in their care (eg. take blood pressures, clean machines, set up and clean down

- or at least some of these), drive to and from the centre or else 'find their own way' there. In other words, they should be moderately or wholly self-sufficient. In practice, though, many satellite centres now look more like incentre units than satellites – particularly in recent years... One additional satellite 'function' has to been to provide dialysis care for ‘un-partnered’ patients who might otherwise be considered home candidates but who, at least until the advent of NHHD, have not been considered ‘ok’ for home management where ‘partnered’ dialysis has been the accepted norm. Long, slow, overnight dialysis is, however, changing this dynamic.


Home patients clearly self-care.


Don’t forget home-based PD as an option – it suits many, is done at home and negates the issues of travel too.






Can I really stop phosphate binders when switching to NHHD?


Yes, no more calcium carbonate or aluminium hydroxide – or whatever phosphate binder(s) you currently take. These stop completely the day you convert to NHHD. It is also important to use a high calcium dialysate concentrate of 1.75mmol/L – though this is a dialysis prescription change your dialysis team will make. These prescription changes, once made, stay.


Blood pressure medications (if you take any) usually reduce or are stopped too - but that is for your doctor to decide.


The amazing thing is the confidence you will develop - and the certainty - and the awesomely better way you will feel ... you will revel in the things you will be able to eat and drink and the hours in the day you will suddenly have and that you don’t have now.



What are the nutritional challenges for nocturnal patients?


The beauty of NHHD, particularly 6/week NHHD, is that diet and fluid intake is free!


Under normal circumstances and in an otherwise normal day-to-day existence, one simply cannot eat so much potassium or drink so much fluid in a single day that cannot be removed with ease in an 8-9 hour dialysis on the same night.


Let’s think about fluid first. Most humans drink (comfortably) between 1.75 and 2.5 litres of fluid each day. We sweat, breath and excrete in our motions about 500 mls of fluid each day at average environmental temperatures in a temperate climate. This means the net gain in fluid each day (balanced in normal circumstances by urine losses) is, give or take, 1.25 to 1.75 litres. For this discussion, let’s assume an average of 1.5 litres as the required daily urinary loss to balance intake and after other losses have been counted.


Of course, most dialysis patients pass little or no urine - though there are some lucky ones who still pass reasonable volumes. The less urine a dialysis patient can pass, the more stringent their daily fluid 'restrictions'.


Why restrict? As the control of normal fluid 'losses' are denied through kidney failure, the only way any fluid taken in can later be removed is by dialysis. Most dialysis patients (those on conventional HD) are only on dialysis for 4 hrs out of every 48 hrs or, at weekends, 4 hrs out of 72 hrs. If a 'normal' fluid intake were allowed (remember we have assumed an average urine loss/day of 1.5L and, because of renal failure, this is denied the patient), there would be a gain between each dialysis of 3 litres (2 days x 1.5L/day) or, over a weekend, 4.5 litres (3 days x 1.5L/day)!


With conventional dialysis, there is commonly only ~4 hrs to remove any excess fluid and return the patient to 'dry weight'. That means removing between 3 and 4.5L in 4 hrs!


The blood volume can be and is replenished from tissue fluids at a maximum rate of ~400ml/hr. That means a maximum replenishment rate of 1.6L over 4hrs ... but we have just shown that between 3 and 4.5L needs removal.


The difference is the amount the blood volume must fall over a 4 hr dialysis


3L - 1.6L = 1.4L or, over a ‘3 day break’ weekend, a whopping 2.9L.


Many patients, especially older ones, just can’t tolerate that! The eyes roll back, the blood pressure falls … = a dialysis ‘flat’. So, what is the response? The dialysis nurse has to run in fluid fast to restore the BP. But, hang on; aren’t we trying to remove fluid?


NHHD allows 8 to 9 hrs/treatment. That is twice as long. NHHD (our way at least) is also twice as often (pretty much every night). Twice as long and twice as often = ¼ the rate of fluid removal needed each dialysis. Drink 2 litres today and gain 1.5L after other losses are accounted for? … Easy peasy! That means 1.5L to take off in 8 hrs – or about 200ml/hr. This is well within the capacity of the tissue fluids to replenish without the blood volume falling.


That’s why fluid intake can be free.


In addition, the stretch-stress on the heart is far less - which is why we see the measurements of heart function improve so much on NHHD.


Regarding potassium, the main problem we have found is to persuade patients who have been taught for so long about the mortal dangers of excess dietary potassium to turn around and have a high potassium diet. Potassium control is so easy and complete that we actually encourage a high potassium diet - bananas, kiwi fruits, stoned fruits, citrus, roast potato or baked potato in their jackets ... all are back on an unrestricted menu. In fact, we have had to give a few patients some potassium supplemental pills until they can adjust to the freedoms of the unrestricted dietary intake.


And what of protein? ... it’s the same. No restrictions. Meat, fish, cereals and grains ... all are free and encouraged.


Obviously, NHD doesn't fix diabetes or a raised cholesterol ... so patients with diabetes still must do the carbohydrate thing and patients with a raised cholesterol must still take their statin drugs etc.


From a patient's perspective, the diet and fluid joys of NHHD are among the most cogent benefits of all.



Are patients with cardiac problems good candidates for NHHD?


Much has been written on the advantages to the heart and to the blood vessels of both:


(1)   'enhanced frequency' HD (usually known as short daily HD and commonly performed for 2 - 2.5 hrs every day in a dialysis centre)



(2)   'enhanced frequency and time' HD (nocturnal home-based HD either 6 nights/ week or alternate nights/week)


George Ting (San Francisco) has the best experience and data I know of regarding short daily HD and there is no doubt that this HD method offers superior outcomes compared to conventional HD, especially for patients with poorly contacting hearts where there is a low ejection fraction (the volume of blood ejected by each beat of the heart). The reasons for this are explained in the Dialysis Issues section of my website. Simply put, there is less expansion and contraction of the blood volume (there is less fluid taken in by mouth) if dialysis is done every day and less strain put onto an already over stressed/stretched heart. Though at first it would seem that six 2hr sessions a week offers no more advantage than three 4 hr sessions (both give 12hrs a week) but this isn’t so at all.


Firstly, the fluid and weight gain (and the over-filling or ‘expansionary’ force this puts onto the heart) that occurs when a patient is on daily HD is only ½ that which occurs in HD performed only every 2nd or 3rd day. In addition, most of the waste removed by dialysis is removed in the first 1 to 2 hours of dialysis with the least removal occurring in the last 2 hours. This makes six 2 hr sessions far more efficient at waste removal and 'toxin reduction' than three 4 hr sessions. On two counts then, short daily (6 x 2 hrs) is way out ahead of conventional HD (3 x 4 hrs).


NHHD, as I explain in depth in my website, adds the advantage of extra time to increased frequency and is even better than short daily – in my view, substantially so. I think even George Ting would acknowledge this.  At present, however, NHHD is only available in most centres as a home-based therapy and patients have to be well enough to cope at home. In our view, many more patients and their families - though having a partner isn’t necessary in our experience - are capable of home HD than are given credit for it. Only a few sites (notably France) offer in-centre sleepover care and even then usually only on an alternate night basis. There is also no doubt that NHHD offers the very best available chance for a floppy heart.


My parathyroid hormone (PTH) level is rising and my Zemplar dose increasing. Is this normal?


This is a complex problem and, without knowing specific details of you case, your duration of renal failure and/or any previous dialysis history, the details of the NHHD program you are on (frequency and hours etc), your prior treatment and a whole lot more about your biochemistry, I cannot give you a 'you-specific' answer but, in broad terms, the problem may be as follows ................


NHHD will control your blood phosphate. There is no question of this. We know that a raised phosphate is an independent risk factor to progressive bone and cardiovascular disease and that its control by NHHD is a major advance and advantage for you. You should by now be off phosphate binders - these are usually withdrawn at the start of NHHD and your phosphate level should now be well within the normal range.


But ...


If you have had long periods of poorly controlled phosphate level (high levels) prior to NHHD, this will have induced hypocalcaemia (a lowering of the calcium level) and a resulting stimulation of parathyroid gland activity (a low ionized calcium does this). This results in over-activity of the parathyroid gland function and production of excess PTH. Though this can initially be reversed by controlling the blood phosphate level (binders or, nowadays, NHHD), if the problem has been persistent and uncontrolled for a significant time, the PTH glands can become 'autonomous'. This means that they kind of ‘get a mind of their own’ and continue to make excess PTH even if, later on, phosphate and calcium are controlled. We see this sometimes even after successful renal transplantation where, despite normalisation of the phosphate and calcium levels, excessive PTH gland activity just keeps on keeping on – and a parathyroidectomy is needed. This, of course, is also often the case in dialysis patients where a parathyroidectomy may ultimately also be needed.


NHHD will control phosphate and will also thus allow for aggressive calcium replacement and high normal or even modestly elevated calcium levels to be achieved in order to maximally 'suppress' PTH production (either by using a high dialysate calcium of 1.75mmol/L – our 1st choice - or by calcitriol ... your version is Zemplar … or by both). NHHD will not, however, reverse autonomously active PTH glands once autonomous activity has been established. This may be the problem you face.


It may also be that your renal team is simply trying to now suppress PTH production through Vitamin D (as we would all do) now that the risk of a high calcium/phosphate product has been removed by controlling your phosphate level with NHHD. If this is successful, you may find that the PTH levels do begin to respond (given time) and fall.


Our PTH levels have fallen in almost all patients on NHHD by (1) controlling phosphate (2) then driving up calcium with a high dialysate calcium though, as the phosphate level has already been lowered, not risking a high product in the process (3) in some also using calcitriol (our Zemplar equivalent). I believe that a high calcium dialysate is the prime factor here rather than any administered Vitamin D. You must recognize though that (4) sometimes autonomous PTH production is inevitable (depending on the length of prior dialysis dependence etc) and that in some patients these high calcium and Vitamin D 'ploys' will still fail and gland removal become the final option.


This 'area' of calcium, phosphate and PTH 'balance' - or perhaps better put, imbalance - is one of the greatest problem areas we face in dialysis medicine. NHHD has, however, given us one additional and hugely powerful tool we have not had before – the utter control of phosphate. Though this added tool is a huge advance, we still have to try and clean up the mess left by its previous rampant misbehavior - and that can still be a very difficult thing to do.


Is it necessary take daily vitamins? 


We routinely supplement B and C group vitamins in all patients – conventional HD, short daily HD and NHHD alike.


We use Multi B forte 1 daily, a formulary providing both B and C (the 'forte' component) combined in one tablet. We have not found the need to increase the supplementation rate in our NHHD patients.


We also routinely supplement with folic acid 5 mgm taken daily in our NHHD and short daily HD patients while we give folic acid 5 mgm 3 x week post dialysis in our conventional HD patients as a replacement for dialysis losses of folate. Why did we increase the folate supplementation rate to daily in NHHD? ... it was a 'feeling in my water' that we should, though I am not sure that it is either necessary nor borne out in fact that it makes any difference.


We routinely measure B12 and folate blood levels every 6 months - and have always done so. We have not found any change in levels of B12 (always normal) or folate (always normal or high) following switching to NHHD or to short daily HD from conventional HD.

We have also conducted a crossover trial where, in our NHHD patients, we switched between low and high flux membranes. We found (as expected) a clear advantage of high flux dialysers in the removal of B2 microglogulin but found no significant changes in B12 or folate levels.

There has always been a worry that more frequent or extended dialysis regimens might unmask or cause 'deficiency syndromes'. Despite >10 yrs experience now in many centres, no such concern has been borne out. There is an editorial by Bernard Charra on this subject in a recent edition of haemodialysis International. He concludes the same. I have reviewed our data and there has been no change in RBC folate or B12 following conversion to NHHD low flux dialysis from conventional HD nor in the subsequent conversion from low flux NHHD to high flux NHHD.

As such, I feel confident to stand by my original response, as I would have expected to see a trend by now if this were otherwise.

Have you any facts and figures on likely life expectancy in CHD and NHHD.

No, there is no data yet on 'survival' comparisons between NHHD and CHD – at least as raw data to answer the question 'how long will I live'. There simply haven’t been enough people treated by NHHD for long enough to generate comparative data. However, ANZDATA (the Australian and New Zealand Dialysis and Transplant Registry ... the longer running, more complete ‘down-under’ answer to the USRDS database) does have data that clearly shows an improved length of survival directly proportional to increasing dialysis time. Though NHHD per se (insufficient numbers and insufficient years of experience as yet) is not yet identifiable as a 'definable therapy group' within that data set, the clear and unequivocal message from the ANZDATA survival curves is ... the longer you dialyse, the better your chance of survival.


Can I return to work?

Yes! The ability (and desire) to return to work has certainly been our experience and is one of the most pleasing benefits from the daytime freedom NHHD brings. It depends on the individual but, as the health of patients improves so greatly, employment has become a prime goal for most of our working-age patients.






You talk about several things you use to ensure safety. How do I access these things?


I have described the alarm mouse we use under the machine and around the fistula in a previous question. As we use native AV fistulae … a radiocephalic [choice (A)], a brachiocephalic [choice(B)] or a superficialised (lifted) brachiobasilic [choice (C)], we have had little call for catheter lock-boxes though these can be either made by your local health system instrument maker or, alternatively, can be accessed from some of the catheter companies .... your local renal unit would be able to source these. For fistulae, however, no such device is needed. I have detailed the fixing process previously as well.


We considered light-weight, removable forearm backslabs for AVF support but in the end, did not use them - though I remain intrigued by the possibility that they might help in some cases. They would be easily fashioned by any standard orthopaedic service (the same as for a fractured wrist).


Bedside phones? They are essential. All phones can be programmed now a days with your 10, 25, 50 or 100 most-used numbers. Simply make 1 and 2 your 'help team'.


As for modem monitoring, this remains debated. NHHD units here in Australia do not use modem or internet monitor. Many of the US unit I am aware of do not either. At the beginning, when the Canadians first sailed into the uncharted seas of NHHD and devised modem monitoring, they wanted to have as much certainty as possible. Interestingly, they have not shown benefit but note considerable complexity and cost. A decision re monitoring also depends upon state and national indemnity attitudes. Here in Australia and New Zealand where home-based HD has always been an accepted and common HD modality (~12-15% of patients in Australia and New Zealand dialyse at home), monitoring has not been a part of the home HD landscape. I can only suggest this be discussed with your local team - as all these issues should be - as local, state and national regulations all interplay and your local team is always best placed to advise you.



You mention an electrode-impregnated tape to protect the access during sleep.  Can you tell me more about this?


Some use enuresis detectors under the machine to detect dialysate leakage. Though we used to do this, we no longer do. We sourced our Zircon(TM) water detectors from JAT Trading, St Ives, NSW, Australia (http://jat1.customer.netspace.net.au/jat.htm) but I imagine any similar device is just fine and they are widely available if you wish to use them. They cost ~A$60.


We use an electrode impregnated tape and alarm device sourced from DRI-Sleeper(TM) [flexible], Alpha Consultants, Nelson, New Zealand (web address = http://www.dri-sleeper.com/) which is a natty, simple, cheap and effective alarm device. Its only disadvantage is that it is too sensitive and can be set off easily by normal skin sweat - especially in summer months here in sunny Australia. To avoid this problem, we loose-fold a strip of simple gauze under the tape to act as a low-level moisture guard between it and the skin.


The tape monitors are cheap ... about A$ 20-30 or, in US money, about US$15-18. They are reusable, we purchase just one per patient and they last for about 6 months before they need replacing. I imagine similar detectors are available in the US but as we found these closer to home in NZ, we didn’t need to look further.



How are the needles secured and protected during NHHD?


As for the specifics of needle fixation ... this is a very individualised thing. Every access and fistula is different - in anatomical size/shape and location - and as such, fixation can vary a little from patient to patient.


For fistula needling, we favour the buttonhole technique first developed by Twardowski. We also use specially designed blunt tipped buttonhole-specific steel needles. Although the earlier NHHD work done by Pierratos used plastic cannulae, we found them harder to insert and feel the blunted steel needles are the better way to go.


We use rotating buttonholes (2 for each of the venous and arterial sites) and use simple tape fixation. In Toronto, they use Morborg adhesive Velcro tapes. Although I personally liked these, my nursing staff has preferred simple tape. In any event, the Morborgs aren’t available in Australia, the cost of importing them was high and simple tape fixation has turned out to be very successful. One does need to be careful to tape the needles correctly and to do it the way the staff have trained you in order that you avoid inadvertent needle dislodgement. We have now trained 28 patients for NHHD with a total of nearly 3000 patient weeks experience @ 6 treatments/week and 2 needles/treatment  ... or 36,000 overnight needle placements … and we are yet to have a significant leak or needle dislodgement issue.







Is special taping of the access needed during sleep?


Yes ... we do emphasise secure taping – perhaps a little more so than the looser taping most patients use during daytime dialysis - but there's nothing to it. It is more important to use the right taping technique to achieve needle stability rather than layering on masses of tape ... but no, we use nothing special. We prefer dull steel buttonhole needles and the buttonhole technique – but it really is horses for courses and sharp needles are not taboo.


It is important to realise that you don't have to sleep stiff and immobile ... rolling and turning is fine, normal and safe and rarely causes any problems. Some nights are just ‘bad nights’ (not often, but sometimes – eg: maybe the needle is inadvertently against a vein valve) … so, ok, no drama – just come off if the alarms keep going off and tries again the next night. Most nights are alarm-free (or, at worst, one to two) and this is almost exclusively because you have rolled - and kinked the arterial line. That’s ok - no panic or harm - push 'mute', shake your arm and free the line then go back to sleep. It might take a little while to get used to it - but it’s ‘so cool’ once you are. Hang a tea towel over the dials to shut the lights out – though the newer version home machines (not ours!) now have dials that are alarm-linked and self-dim unless an alarm is triggered and they light up again until the cause for the alarm is corrected.


The main thing is - trust yourself and trust your equipment ... its good stuff now!


Don’t stiffen up - relax, breathe deep and go to sleep. Don’t wait, breathless, for disasters that don’t come.


Above all, it’s not complicated. It’s what you have been used to during the day - but at night. No more. No less.



Will I have to have buttonholes if I do NHHD or will my current technique suffice?


Most of our patients (though not all) use the buttonhole technique. It really does depend on the individual AVF and its unique characteristics  ... each AVF is different. Only those who can see, touch and assess the AVF 'in the flesh' can really know which technique might be best for needling a specific AVF and your team is best placed to determine whether your AVF is suitable for buttonholing. We have a preference for the buttonhole technique where it’s possible and/or feasible but NHHD doesn’t sink or swim on the technique - so don't worry either way.


Here are a couple of papers that describe the buttonhole technique (technically) - but which may be of interest to you:


Twardowski, Z. (1995) Constant Site (Buttonhole) Method of Needle Insertion for Haemodialysis. Dialysis & Transplantation Vol 24, no. 10.


Peterson, P.(2002) Fistula Cannulation: The Buttonhole Technique. Nephrology Nurses Journal. Vol 29, no.2.



What is the effect of longer dialysis on a fistula?


Will there be damage to my fistula? This is the chief fear and anxiety of every patient (and nurse and doctor), whether dialysis is in a unit with a nurse doing the needling, at home during the day with self needling or, perhaps the most scary of all, at night and through the night, at home, alone.


We use several techniques, both as reassurance and as real security, to ensure the fistula is protected.


bulletFirst, there is the concern about blood leaks – occurring at night and undetected. We have yet to have more than a minor leak in more than 3000 patient week’s experience (that's about 60 patient years). Nevertheless, for security, we use a soft pliable tape impregnated with tiny silver wires, which connect to a mouse-like alarm. If the tape is wetted by a blood leak in the night, a current circuit is completed and the alarm sounds.


bulletThe secret is meticulous, no corner-cutting attention to needle stabilisation after insertion. We use the buttonhole technique for most patients and find this method is superb - both for easy, painless needle insertion and for securing a good needle position for taping. It must be individually adapted to each individual fistula. There is a wealth of peer-review data confirming that more frequent use of a fistula is not harmful – indeed several authors have surprisingly reported that thrombosis (fistula clotting) and stenosis (fistula narrowings) actually lessen.


bulletNot all is rosy, though. We recently reported an increased rate of AVF-related infection (that's the potentially nasty type of blood borne infection called septicaemia - all episodes resulting from contamination with skin bacteria). This worried us a lot. We carefully researched the few patients with this problem and found the infections repeated several times in the same patients. It was technique-related. Though we teach meticulous needle insertion and stabilisation technique, once at home some patients became a little blasé and began to cut corners in their technique. Taping became less effective. Needles were not being stabilized properly after insertion, as they should have been. Skin preparation had become 'slap-dash'. Once we identified this, we retrained and re-enforced technique, technique, technique and, yes, technique. Since we identified and corrected this problem - and we emphasise this now, over and over - we have had no new episodes in the last 18 months.



Is the frequent use of the fistula a concern? (b) What is the access method have you found best? (c) Is that access method sustainable over the long term? (d) Are any new access developments coming?


Access has ever been the Achilles heel of all dialysis (especially HD - but PD too). Sadly (for us) the human body isn’t designed - or at least the immune defense mechanisms aren’t - for permanent or recurrent breaches of the 'integrity' of skin or blood.


For a period, we became worried re the infection rate in our AV fistulae (mostly mild but infection all the same) about half way through our second year of NHHD but identified this as a problem with ‘corner-cutting’ in needling technique. With due diligence and with regular reinforcement of strict protocols for sterility and access care, our recent experience has been much more reassuring and we have had no further infections for >18 months now. Patients do tend to develop 'familiarity’ with a procedure and we identified this as the problem. We now emphasise - and emphasise again, and then again - that the fistula MUST NOT BE put at risk by ‘corner-cutting’ at home. Though we briefly considered using mupirocin ointment (Bactroban) on the puncture sites, we decided not to do so and preferred to emphasise the protocols for sterility and skin care as the mainstays of good access outcomes. Our results – no further infections – attest to the importance of access care.


We use AV fistulae (native only) and have only used catheters minimally on a couple of occasions where an AVF has been briefly unusable. Either is ok though I strongly believe native AVF remains the optimum access available. We have not used grafts – we have no grafts in our unit – and nothing will persuade me that an artificial vessel should be inserted.


No, there are no new access methods in the pipeline (the Hemaport, a Swedish ‘button’ device is not, in my view, a forward step). Even from outside the box (a place I like to be) there seems nothing (to me) that will even possibly replace or ‘better’ the native AVF.


Care of the AVF is vital and an absolute devotion to its protection and to the care of the adjacent skin is paramount. As per the website, we prefer rotating buttonholes in some but not all our patients but though they are great for some, they are not for others. Working this out is part of the training process.


I am aware of catheter research such as impregnating the catheter wall with antibacterials or with bubble trap methods for lumen protection (Twardowski) but none of these (in my view) replace or ‘better’ the native AVF.


In the end, each access in each patient is unique. Working out strategies that are individual to each patient but which also fall within the broad guidelines of protecting and sustaining skin integrity seems the best answer. Some skin cannot manage alcohol cleansing without irritation ... ok then, change the skin prep. Be prepared to seek the best answer for each individual patient - but never breach the protocol that is set up for that patient. Then always reinforce, re-educate and review. But always also keep an open mind on new thinking and new ideas – for example, there are new skin-oil preps that the ID teams are talking about ... not yet available but in development ... maybe...!







There are different dialysis membranes – ‘low flux’ and ‘high flux’. Does flux make a difference, and why?


The body wastes removed by dialysis are almost countless in type. We talk most of urea, creatinine and phosphate but the list is far, far larger. Some are listed here:


bulletMiddle molecules and peptides
bullet b2 microglobulin
bulletParathyroid hormone
bulletAdvanced Glycation End products (AGE)
bulletGranulocyte inhibiting protein
bulletCystatin C
bulletRetinol-binding protein
bulletClara-cell protein
bulletThe guanadines (in particular methyl guanidine and guanadino-succinic acid)
bulletIndoles (indoxysulphate)
bullet 3-carboxy-4-methyl-5-propyl-2-furanpropionic acid


Some of these chemicals wastes (molecules) are small in size. Some are large. Some lie in a middle range in size (‘middle molecules’) and include an important ‘nasty’ called beta2 microglobulin (B2M.)


Flux refers to the ‘leakiness’ of the dialysis membrane. The leakier the membrane is, the bigger the molecules that can pass across it and be easily removed. A low flux membrane isn’t very leaky and will only remove small molecules like urea, phosphate and creatinine. A high flux membrane is much leakier and, to remove B2M, a high flux membrane is essential. High flux NHHD removes about 4 times as much B2M as does high flux CHD - in essence, twice as often and for twice as long. In addition, B2M losses are also more time than concentration dependant ... so longer and more frequent treatments magnify the benefit.


On the other hand, phosphate removal is concentration dependant early in the dialysis treatment ... its blood level zings down fast in the first 1-2 hours but after that fades to a slower more linear loss ... meaning more frequent short hour treatments (like short daily HD) remove it well - though longer frequent treatments (like 6/week NHHD) add even more removal.


Each substance that dialysis removes behaves and is ‘dialysed off’ in a slightly different way – yes, membranes are weird things.



Do I need a bigger Bibag or have to wake to change the bag during an 8 hour run?


First, NHHD is much longer, gentler and slower. Everything can be slowed down - almost subliminalized (is there such a word?). The blood flow rate is dropped to an average of 225ml/min. The dialysate flow rate is also reduced to 300 ml/min (an adjustment easily made on Fresenius machines by the dialysis technicians). Doing this allows standard concentrate volumes and Bibags to ‘last the full distance’ (and more) with ease. So, yes, you can sleep soundly through the night for your full 8hrs without worrying you will run out of concentrate or bicarbonate.



You use lower NHHD flow rates than we do – why is this and aren’t high flow rates beneficial and necessary?


Your question says you use a blood flow rate (Qb) of 300 ml/min and dialysate flow rate (Qd) of 500 ml/min. We use an average Qb of 225-250 and a Qd of 300. The following reasons underpin our decision …


Initially in 1993-4, when Uldall and Pierratos began the first NHHD program in Toronto, they used a program of 8 hr dialysis/treatment, 6 x week and a Qd of 100 and Qb of +/- 250.


When I visited in 1999 and decided to ‘import’ his program to Australia, he only recently had increased the Qd from 100 to 200 and finally to 300. We chose to use 300 based on his experience at that time.


Since then, others have used even higher rates - see below - but remember, our two programs (Toronto and Geelong) are based, in the main, on 6 treatments/week whereas many of the more recent ones are alternate nights (7/fortnight or ‘3.5’/week). The less frequent the dialysis, the greater the need to up-regulate flows to compensate for the loss of time and to ensure adequate dialysis.


So, what are the positives and negatives of all this?


Clearly the greater the Qd and the Qb, the more efficient the dialysis … but we already were achieving super-efficient and effective dialysis. Our patients’ Kt/V's (the current 'measure' of dialysis efficiency which, incidentally, I do not believe in for a moment nor agree with at all) were far in excess of those achieved by CHD. Our patients were reaching a glomerular filtration rate (GFR) equivalent of 50 ml/min. 2 normal kidneys produce a GFR equivalent of 100 while CHD produces an equivalent of 13 and chronic kidney disease (CKD) just before entry into a dialysis program is usually equivalent to ~8-10. Compare 8-10, 13, 50 and 100 and you will see that NHD is achieving about ½ of normal two-kidney function whereas CHD achieves about 1/8th .


As such we felt no need to ‘push' the fistula but to simply 'cruise' with gentle blood flows and a Qd which didn’t risk either the concentrate or the Bi-bag running out before the planned end of the treatment. The initial rationale for a low Qd was to extend the life of the treatment time and thus ensure bi-bag and concentrate continuity. Remember, our NHHD program is primarily six treatments/week.


As we have introduced patients to alternate night NHHD (7 nights/fortnight or ‘3.5’ nights/week) as well as 6/week NHHD.... and here I stress my very strong belief in 3.5/week not 3/week regimes, we have kept our initial Qb and Qd regime for no better reason than it was in our protocol! OK, I know this is not a good scientific reason, but it is truthful! Despite this, we are very happy with our phosphate control, dialysis efficiency and other parameters under both options so I suppose there has been no driving cause to review or change.


As for why higher flow rates are beneficial? ... simply, the more 'passes' that occur between blood and dialysate, the more efficient is the solute removal. There is therefore some theoretical benefit from both a higher Qd and Qb but if one only - which?


Well, a Qd of 500 compared with a Qd of 300 significantly raises solute removal whereas increasing Qb from, say, 250 to 300 has only a small effect on efficiency - certainly a correspondingly smaller effect than changing Qd. In addition, I have a personal belief (founded more in my experience and ‘gut feelings’ than in my scientific head) that higher AVF flows don’t do the fistula much good. So … if a Qb of 225-250 gives good numbers and outcomes, I think I am justified to be happy with it. In my view then, if one flow rate is to be increased, make it the Qd.



What needs ‘converting’ for the machine to be at home? Can I use my en-suite sink?  How long are the lines?


Certainly, there is a bit of plumbing required.


Though each machine (we use Fresenius 400B's) needs a portable (and quiet) reverse osmosis (R/O) water treatment machine piggybacked to the back of the dialysis machine (the R/O is about the size of a big overnight case), the water must first be multi-filtered through sand and charcoal filters to remove particles and chlorine residues (chloramines). Where possible, this is fitted outside the building. The water is then piped through to the machine and R/O in the bedroom. Though this is not a huge 'plant', it serves no other purpose than for pre-treating water for dialysis and, in rental accommodation, some landlords have resisted having their building modified and this can present problems.


An effluent trap is also needed to conduct waste water to the drain. The en-suite basin isn’t an ideal option, I am afraid, as a more robust and stable system is likely required.


The length of lines has not been an issue.







What costs are incurred in NHHD?


We have extensive cost data on our program and are in the process of finalizing a detailed costing document for the dialysis literature and for our state government. In Victoria, Australia, the set up costs for home HD are borne by the renal unit and not by the patient. This includes the installation costs at home. All dialysis is funded by direct government reimbursement of costs to the treating renal unit and the consumables, machines and other equipment are also provided free of charge.


The major 'out-of-pocket' expense for our patients is:


(1)   the government surcharge on drugs up to the Commonwealth Government’s patient contribution limit (the ‘safety-net' @ A$600/year)



(2)   the 'excess' expenses of water and power. In Victoria, there is a reimbursement scheme for water bills specifically negotiated with the state government (~$250/yr) but I do not know if similar arrangements exist elsewhere. You should check this with your managing renal unit. We also considered installing a 'winner meter', a day-to-night rate power converter to minimise power bills, but found the cost/benefit to be marginal, if at all. At the end of the day, there still is a small increase in water/power rates over and above the savings generated through the water reimbursement/winner meter initiatives - but this is not great and amounts, in Victoria, to A$150-250 per year.


All other costs are borne by the program though ultimately, by you, the taxpayer. However, as NHHD is cheaper than centre or satellite dialysis, the taxpayer (you) gets off more cheaply with NHHD than with centre/satellite dialysis. This is due to the major savings in NHHD on wages and infrastructure.


Only your local renal unit can advise about arrangements in place in your specific area and you should discuss all financial issues with them in the 1st instance.



Have you considered including the cost benefits of (1) fewer patient bed days/year and (2) the $ value of patients who no longer receive disability benefits and now pay tax?


I admit we are ‘in evolution’ with our ‘costing’ sophistication though we are getting better at it as we go. The cost data I supply in my website is really a 'for-the-lay-person’ overview but we certainly have far more detailed data available. A detailed paper is in final preparation for the peer-review Australian literature.


The bed-day issue is available – but it’s hard to be sure one is comparing ‘apples with apples’. Nevertheless, this will also be published in the Australian literature in 2005.


The tax dollars saved by re-engagement in the workforce is a difficult outcome to show. The best (but highly unethical) way would be to access the NHHD patient tax returns! Hardly fair or appropriate - but the only foolproof way of showing this. The only other validated way would be to have the tax office 'quantitate' the sickness and/or ‘carer’ benefits on a $/week value then assess the mean likely benefit paid per patient in the NHHD program prior to and subsequent to NHHD. As you can understand, we have pursued neither of these options.




Authored by Prof John Agar. Copyright © 2012
Nocturnal Haemodialysis Program, Barwon Health.
All rights reserved. Revised: July 1st 2012