Accuracy and Limitations of the Diagnosis of Malnutrition in Dialysis Patients


  • Csaba P. Kovesdy,

    1. Division of Nephrology, Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Salem, Virginia
    2. Division of Nephrology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
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  • Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh

    1. Harold Simmons Center for Chronic Disease Research and Epidemiology, Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Torrance, California
    2. David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California
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Address correspondence to: Csaba P. Kovesdy, MD, Salem VAMC (111D), 1970 Roanoke Blvd., Salem, VA 24153, Tel.: +540-982 2463, Fax: +540-224 1963, or e-mail:


Uremic malnutrition, also known as protein-energy wasting (PEW), is a common phenomenon in maintenance dialysis patients and a risk factor for poor clinical outcomes including worse quality of life and increased hospitalization and mortality. The paradoxical association between traditional cardiovascular risk factors and better outcomes in dialysis patients also referred to as “reverse epidemiology,” is a good example of the powerful effect-modifying impact of the nutritional status in this population. Measures of food intake, body composition tools, nutritional scoring systems, and laboratory values such as serum albumin are used to diagnose PEW and to assess the degree of severity of PEW without clearly validated diagnostic criteria. Some observational studies suggest that inflammation is a missing link between the PEW and poor clinical outcomes in dialysis patients, although PEW per se may also predispose to illness and inflammation. Ongoing debate as to whether such surrogates as serum albumin or prealbumin concentrations are markers of nutritional status, inflammation, comorbidity, or other conditions has led to confusion and diagnostic and therapeutic nihilism. Irrespective of the cause of hypoalbuminemia in dialysis patients, evidence suggests that nutritional interventions can increase serum albumin in dialysis patients. Hence, we should continue assessing serum albumin and other surrogates of nutritional status to risk-stratify patients and to allocate nutritional therapy, while well-designed, large-scale, randomized, controlled trials of the effects of nutritional intake on clinical outcomes are awaited.