Renal replacement therapy (RRT) is a process of removing waste products and excess free water from the blood during renal failure and critical illness.
Common indications for RRT can be remembered with the mnemonic AEIOU:
- (Metabolic) Acidosis
- Electrolyte abnormalities (especially severe hyperkalemia)
- Ingestions/toxins (aspirin, lithium, methanol, ethylene glycol)
- (Volume) Overload
There are many different variations of RRT, but the main principles behind it can be quite simple.
In hemodialysis, diffusion is responsible for removing unwanted solutes and water. The setup involves a semipermeable membrane that can allow water and some water-soluble molecules to pass. Blood will flow on one side of the membrane, under pressure, while the dialysate (contains glucose and some electrolytes) generally flows on the other side in the opposite direction. This creates a suitable concentration gradient for unwanted molecules to pass into the dialysate, while excess water is forced across the membrane based on the amount of pressure is applied by the dialysis circuit.
In hemofiltration, blood is pushed across a semipermeable membrane, under pressure. Most of the plasma water is able to pass through the membrane, while unwanted molecules get stuck in the membrane (convection). A substitution fluid may be added back to the blood, in order to dilute out waste molecules (e.g., urea), replace useful molecules (e.g., bicarbonate), and to avoid losing too much fluid from the patient’s circulation.
Some modes of RRT will involve both hemodialysis and hemofiltration. Others only use one of these mechanisms.
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