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Feasibility of Assessing Sodium-Associated Body Fluid Composition in End-Stage Renal Disease

Clark-Cutaia, Maya N.; Reisinger, Nathaniel; Anache, Maria Rita; Ramos, Kara; Sommers, Marilyn S.; Townsend, Raymond R.; Yu, Gary; Fargo, Jamison

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000320

Background Cardiovascular disease accounts for more than half of all deaths in the hemodialysis (HD) population. Although much of this mortality is associated with fluid overload (FO), FO is difficult to measure, and many HD patients have significant pulmonary congestion despite the absence of clinical presentation. Cohort studies have observed that FO, as measured by bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS), correlates with mortality. Other studies have observed that lower sodium intake is associated with less fluid-related weight gain, improved hypertension, and survival. Whether sodium intake influences FO in HD patients as measured by BIS is not known.

Objective The aims of the study were to determine the feasibility of assessing the impact of sodium restriction on body fluid composition as measured by BIS among patients with three levels of sodium intake and to determine if there are statistical and/or clinical differences in BIS measures across sodium intake groups.

Methods We used a double-blinded randomized controlled trial design with three levels of sodium restriction, 2,400 mg per day, 1,500 mg per day, and unrestricted (control group), to test our aims. Forty-two HD patients from a tertiary acute care academic institution associated with three urban DaVita dialysis centers were enrolled. Participants remained in the inpatient center for 5 days and 4 nights and were randomly assigned to sodium intake groups. Body fluid composition was measured with BIS.

Results Recruitment, enrollment, and retention statistics supported the feasibility of the study design. Regression analyses showed that there were no statistically significant differences among sodium intake groups on any of the outcomes.

Discussion Our data suggest the need for additional research into the effects of sodium restriction on body fluid composition.

Maya N. Clark-Cutaia, PhD, ACNP-BC, RN, is Assistant Professor, Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York University, New York. She was Lecturer in the Biobehevioral Health Sciences Department, the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, when the research was completed.

Nathaniel Reisinger, MD, is Nephrology Fellow, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and Hypertension Program, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Maria Rita Anache, BS, is Research Assistant, School of Osteopathic Medicine, Rowan University, Stratford, New Jersey.

Kara Ramos, BSN, is Research Assistant, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Marilyn S. Sommers, PhD, RN, FAAN, is Professor Emerita, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. She was the Lillian S. Brunner Professor of Medical-Surgical Nursing during the time that the work for this study was completed.

Raymond R. Townsend, MD, is Professor, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and Director, Hypertension Program, the Hospital the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Gary Yu, DrPH, MPH, is Associate Research Scientist, Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York University, New York.

Jamison Fargo, PhD, MS-EPI, is Professor, Utah State University, Logan.

Accepted for publication July 4, 2018.

The authors acknowledge the individual contributions of Ene Anteyi, MPH, BS, Sinja Kriete, student researcher, Christine Lin, BSN, Kelly McGuigan, BS, Harsh Patel, Azwad Rahman, BS, and Pranati Sreepathy, BS, as well as the medical staff of the DaVita dialysis centers and inpatient research unit.

This study was supported through Grant NIH-K23NR015058 received by Maya N. Clark, PhD, ACNP-BC, RN, from the National Institute of Nursing Research at the National Institutes of Health. The National Institute of Nursing Research did not have any role in the study design; collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data; report development; or publication submission.

The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Pennsylvania. Identifier: NCT02778516. Sodium-Restricted Diets and Symptoms in End-Stage Renal Disease: An RCT.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.

Corresponding author: Maya N. Clark-Cutaia, PhD, ACNP-BC, RN, Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York University, 433 First Avenue, Room 664, New York, NY 10010 (e-mail:

End-stage renal disease (ESRD) affects 723,413 patients in the United States; the majority of these patients undergo renal replacement therapy via hemodialysis (HD; U.S. Renal Data System, 2016). Patients on HD have increased mortality averaging 17% per patient year; cardiovascular disease accounts for more than half of all known causes of death in this population (U.S. Renal Data System, 2016). Much of the mortality is associated with fluid overload (FO; Agarwal, 2010; Chazot et al., 2012; Wizemann et al., 2009; Zoccali et al., 2017), which contributes to cardiovascular morbiditiy and mortality via longstanding pressure and volume overload contributing to hypertension and leading to left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH; Cader, Ibrahim, Paul, Gafor, & Mohd, 2014; Xu et al., 2013). Yet, FO is difficult to measure, and many patients have significant pulmonary congestion despite the absence of pulmonary rales or pedal edema (Torino et al., 2016; Zocalli et al., 2013).

HD patients have no residual renal function; they lack the ability to excrete sodium and water consumed throughout the day, resulting in fluid-related weight gains (Clark-Cutaia, Ren, Hoffman, Snetslaar, & Sevick, 2013). Thus, sodium restriction has been a standard treatment recommendation for decades. Lower sodium intake is associated with less interdialytic weight gain (Clark-Cutaia et al., 2014), improved intradialytic blood pressure, and survival (Maduell & Navarro, 2000). Dietary restriction of sodium appears to improve blood pressure, LVH, and intradialytic hypotension (Kayikcioglu et al., 2009; Maduell & Navarro, 2000). As a result, sodium restriction is a universal recommendation for ESRD management. The National Kidney Foundation recommendation of 2,400 mg per day is consensus based, rather than evidence based. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend restriction of dietary sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day for persons with hypertension and/or chronic kidney disease, although little empiric evidence exists to support this recommendation. In addition, the Institute of Medicine failed to find sufficient evidence of either harm or benefit from sodium restriction at either level of restriction (Clark-Cutaia, Sommers, Anderson, & Townsend, 2016). Little is known about the appropriate degree of sodium restriction nor the clinical outcomes resulting from different levels of sodium restriction (National Kidney Foundation, 2015).

Bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS)—a noninvasive instrument used to estimate body composition by applying a small alternating current at various frequencies—provides a way to accurately assess FO. Bioimpedance measures the opposition to the flow of electrical current through tissues. In the human body, only water with its dissolved electrolytes will conduct a current. Using validated estimation equations, BIS provides data on body composition, including fat mass and fat free mass, extracellular water (ECF), intracellular water (ICF), and total body water (TBW; Davenport, 2013; Davies & Davenport, 2014; Khalil, Mohktar, & Ibrahim, 2014). The goal of HD is to reduce both ECF and TBW, as well as remove excess solutes and waste.

Multiple cohort studies have demonstrated that FO as measured by BIS correlates with all-cause mortality in patients on HD (Chazot et al., 2012; Kim et al., 2015; Machek, Jirka, Moissl, Chamney, & Wabel, 2010). Zoccali et al. (2013) published a multicenter prospective cohort study of patients on HD who had FO measured by BIS and demonstrated it was associated with cardiovascular outcomes and mortality independent of blood pressure tertile. In addition, patients with greater degrees of FO experienced poorer outcomes (Zoccali et al., 2017). Randomized controlled trial (RCT) data have shown that ultrafiltration prescription enhanced by BIS measurement improved LVH, blood pressure, and arterial stiffness in one study and all-cause mortality in another. Relatively small changes in FO drove these results, and BIS was able to detect these differences (Hur et al., 2013; Onofriescu et al., 2014).

Theoretically, patients with lower dietary sodium intake would have lower ECF volume. ECF-to-ICF ratios have been implicated as a risk factor for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in patients undergoing HD (Lin et al., 2003). Bioimpedance ECF and ECF% reflect hypervolemia (Arslan & Tuncalp, 2017; Kotanko, Levin, & Zhu, 2008). Aslan and Tuncalp (2017) found a reduction in sodium intake resulted in a reduction in ECF in patients that completed diet and fluid education. Whether sodium intake has an influence on FO in patients with ESRD on HD, as well as over what period of time, is not known. We had two study aims:

  1. to determine the feasibility of assessing the impact of sodium restriction on body fluid composition as measured by BIS among patients with three levels of sodium intake and
  2. to determine if there are statistical and clinical differences in BIS measures across sodium intake groups.
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We piloted a double-blinded RCT to assess the feasibility of our procedures and to determine the impact of dietary sodium intake restriction on HD patient outcomes. The complete study design and methods were previously described elsewhere (Clark-Cutaia et al., 2016).

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The 42 participants were recruited from three urban DaVita dialysis centers associated with a tertiary acute care academic institution. Inclusion criteria were persons of ≥21 years of age, who had the ability to read and write English, were undergoing maintenance HD, and had been on therapy for at least 3 months. Exclusion criteria were persons who intended to move out of the area or change HD centers within 6 months, had terminal illness or life expectancy of less than 12 months, planned to receive a living donor transplant in the study period, had cognitive impairment, were unable to provide informed consent, had New York Heart Association Class III or IV heart failure, had an internal defibrillator or pacemaker, and/or were pregnant. Because this was a pilot study, we excluded Spanish-speaking participants.

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The study was approved by the institutional review board, and potential participants provided written informed consent and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release forms. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three sodium intake groups at baseline: 1,500 mg of daily sodium, 2,400 mg of daily sodium, or a control group with unrestricted daily sodium (these participants selected from a restaurant style menu and their sodium intake calculated based on consumption). Participants were admitted to an inpatient research unit for 5 days and 4 nights. The inpatient research unit Nutrition Core created an isocaloric menu that varied only in sodium content to administer the randomized dietary sodium intake (mg/day). Remaining food items on each tray were collected, blended, and analyzed for remaining sodium content, which was then deducted from the dietary sodium intake total. All meals and snacks were provided by the Nutrition Core.

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Demographic and health status data were obtained through self-report using a questionnaire adapted from previous studies conducted by the coinvestigators. Patients were transported to and from their regularly scheduled HD sessions on admission Days 1, 3, and 5 of the 5-day study period. HD-related variables (ultrafiltration, rate, and total fluid removed) were abstracted from the postdialysis electronic medical record on dialysis days.

Body fluid composition was measured with BIS (ImpediMed Imp_ SFB7, ImpediMed Limited, Queensland, Australia). Measurements included TBW, ECF, and ICF in percentage (%). Three consecutive measurements were taken on the surface of the skin by placing electrodes on the right hand and right foot before and after dialysis. The average of these measurements was used for analysis.

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Statistical Analyses

Descriptive statistics were computed for all study variables, which were then compared in terms of their distributions across sodium intake groups using chi-square (χ2) tests for categorical variables and one-way analysis of variance for continuous variables. We conducted a set of three regression analyses with TBW, ICF, and ECF as outcomes with the following set of covariates: Day 1 TBW, intracellular fluid, or extracellular fluid; demographics (age, gender, race); health (tobacco use, alcohol use, perceived general health, years on HD); and sodium intake group membership (unrestricted, 1,500 mg, 2,400 mg). Regression models were run with and without sodium intake group membership, and change in R2 was tested with an F test. Analyses were conducted using IBM SPSS Statistics Version 23.

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We approached 50 potential study participants; all but one met inclusion criteria. The first 42 signed informed consent and were enrolled into the study. Two patients withdrew from the study due to illness unrelated to the study during the intervention phase, for a total sample of 40 participants. Our overall retention rate was 95%. After controlling for other variables, given a small-to-moderate effect of sodium intake group membership on our outcomes (R2 change = .02–.13 [Cohen’s f2 = .02–.15]), a sample of 42 participants (14 per group), and an alpha of .05, we were able to achieve power in the 15%–69% range.

Our sample was overwhelmingly African American (85%), reported hypertension as the etiology of ESRD (45%), was balanced in terms of gender (male, 52.5%), and had a mean age of 56 years (SD = 11.7; see Table 1). Most of the participants perceived their health to be at least “good” (55%). Seventy-five percent reported never using tobacco, and 65% reported never consuming alcohol. For the total sample on Day 1, (a) mean dietary sodium intake was 1,987.93 mg Na (SD = 1,316.5); (b) baseline (before HD on Day 1) interdialytic weight gain was 2.62 kg (SD = 1.5); (c) symptom/problem scale score was 79.63 (SD = 12.5); (d) ultrafiltration rate was 1.41 (SD = 0.20); (e) ICF was 54.89 (SD = 10.2); (f) ECF was 42.53 (SD = 8.4); and (g) TBW was 49.89 (SD = 12.8). On average, 2.80 L were removed at the baseline HD session (SD = 1.1).



Results of regression models showed there were no statistically significant differences in TBW (Table 2), ICF (Table 3), or ECF (Table 4) among sodium intake groups. Except for etiology of HD, no predictor variables were significantly associated with any of the outcomes. Adjusting for all other predictors and regardless of sodium intake group membership, those with a diabetes etiology had significantly higher levels of ICF and ECF as compared to those with a hypertension etiology (both ps < .02). Hypertensive individuals had, on average, a 15-unit (p = .013) decrease in the intracellular fluid volume variance and an 11-unit (p = .021) decrease in the extracellular fluid volume variance compared to diabetics.







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We determined that a study of this magnitude—using these particular methods—is feasible. The principal investigator and the research staff developed a rapport with the dialysis centers’ staff, and as a result, patient referral and self-referral were accomplished easily. Prior to the study, we were concerned that we would not be able to retain patients for the entire hospital stay or provide prepared meals that the participants would find palatable. Our recruitment, enrollment, and retention statistics allayed these concerns. We conducted a satisfaction survey in preparation for reproducing this study and found that 79% of patients would participate in a similar study in the future if contacted. Anecdotally, patients recounted the intervention phase of the study as a “vacation” or a “break” from their day-to-day lives.

We found no statistically significant differences in fluid volume body composition in our sample of HD patients regardless of group assignment. Although we did not have sufficient power to reach statistical significance, the control group had higher ECF and lower ICF volumes than the two sodium restriction groups.

In our study sample, participants who identified diabetes as the cause of their ESRD had significantly higher ICF and ECF than those with ESRD caused by hypertension. This is a potentially interesting phenomenon within this subsample of patients with respect to fluid compartments. A multicenter trial demonstrated that diabetic HD patients had greater fluid volume between dialysis sessions than nondiabetics (Davenport, Cox, & Thuraisingham, 2008). Similarly, diabetic control or lack thereof was linked to greater fluid volume in another sample of HD patients (Ramdeen, Tzamaloukas, Malhotra, Leger, & Murata, 1998). McCafferty, Fan, and Davenport (2014) found that patients in their sample with diabetes also had higher hydration status at baseline and at follow-up. From the analyses we conducted to address our study aims, we were unable to extrapolate any conclusions other than those already posited by previous investigations into the phenomenon.

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Although this preliminary work confirmed the feasibility of an RCT testing three levels of sodium intake in patients with ESRD on HD, our study was limited by a small sample size, which was not meant to provide an effect size calculation. Furthermore, we were unable to completely control the patient’s length of stay. The inpatient stay was not a five full days, as patients were admitted after and discharged before their dialysis sessions on Days 1 and 5, respectively. The mean length of stay was approximately 4.5 days and 4 nights. BIS measurements were conducted only by the study staff trained by the primary investigator. However, environmental and participant circumstances outside our control may have created error in the measurements. Furthermore, strict control of dietary sodium intake required 24-hour oversight by inpatient nursing and nutrition staff, dialysis center nursing staff, and study staff. It is possible that some patients received food not on their prescribed diets by trading snacks or elements of their food tray without our knowledge.

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Our data suggest the need for additional research into the practicality of BIS to assess the effect of sodium restriction on body fluid composition but offer the first insight into how this effect can be assessed using BIS. Furthermore, we have developed a well-tolerated, methodologically sound investigation into body composition and sodium intake, despite the paucity of literature available in this regard. We will reproduce this study with a larger, more diverse sample in the future.

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body composition; kidney failure, chronic; renal dialysis; sodium

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