Primary Fistula Failure

Optimizing vascular access outcomes remains an ongoing challenge for the renal community1. The arteriovenous fistula (AVF) is widely recognized as the access of choice because of greater reliability, fewer complications, reduced infections, fewer events that require hospitalization and decreased mortality2.

The major complication with AVF is the high frequency of primary failure or suitability failure due to early thrombosis or lack of maturation3–5.  Primary AVF failure is reported to occur after AVF placement in up to 40% cases3–5.  A review of current published literature demonstrates variability in the definition of primary failure3. Some investigational studies define primary failure as the inability to use the access successfully for dialysis; others define primary failure as unsuccessful fistula utilization for at least 6 consecutive dialysis sessions3,5. This difference in definitions makes comparisons between the many published reports more difficult.  The renal community is currently attempting to establish standardized, objective and accurate criteria for primary failure3.

There are many factors associated with the high rate of primary AVF failure.  The dialysis population is growing exponentially with older patients and a higher proportion of diabetes and other comorbidities. Multiple studies have confirmed that older age, coronary artery disease (CAD) and peripheral vascular disease (PVD) are clinical indicators associated with an increased risk for AVF failure1,6,7. This makes pathophysiologic sense because adequate inflow and outflow are required for AVF maturation and would be hampered by diseased vasculature represented by atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis6. However, in a recent study by Maya et al., that compared the clinical outcomes of brachiocephalic fistulae, transposed brachiobasilic fistulae and AV grafts; only patient gender and access type predicted primary access failure. In multiple variable logistic regression analysis including access type, patient age, sex, diabetes, CAD, PVD, cerebrovascular disease, and prior access, primary access failure was lower in males than in females (HR 0.54; 95%CI, 0.38 to 0.78, p=0.0001)5. Additionally, primary access failure was higher for brachiocephalic versus transposed brachiobasilic fistulae (HR 2.76; 95% CI, 0.38 to 1.57 p=0.48). These results must be interpreted with caution due to study limitations including its retrospective, observational design and single dialysis center experience.  Further prospective studies are necessary to further elucidate the factors that predict primary failure of brachiocephalic fistulae and the potential advantages and disadvantages of the more complex surgery required to create a transposed brachiobasilic fistula5.

The etiology of AVF primary failure is not limited to pathophysiologic processes. Public healthcare policy, practitioner training, available interventions and patient education all contribute to the success of a functioning fistula. Worldwide initiatives have demonstrated the potential beneficial impact of public policy on improving outcomes and decreasing costs8. Fistula First, a collaboration involving a national consortium of 35 public and private organizations including providers, payers and patients, has been a catalyst for promoting practitioner and patient training through 11 change concepts.

Below are the 11 change concepts for increasing the prevalence of AV fistulas for hemodialysis9.

  1. Routine CQI Review of Vascular Access
  2. Timely Referral to Nephrologist
  3. Early Referral to Surgeon for “AVF Only” Evaluation and Timely Placement
  4. Surgeon Selection Based on Best Outcomes, Willingness, and Ability to Provide Access Services
  5. Full Range of Appropriate Surgical Approaches to AVF Evaluation and Placement
  6. AV Fistulas Cannulation Resources for Staff
  7. Monitoring and Maintenance to Ensure Adequate Access Function
  8. Education for Care Givers and Patients
  9. Outcomes Feedback to Guide Practice

The success of change concepts 2 and 3, timely referral to a nephrologist and early referral to a surgeon respectively, has been demonstrated in numerous studies. One group reported that 73% of their patients initiated hemodialysis (HD) with AVF and only 23% with a catheter when seen by a nephrologist greater than three months prior to beginning HD8. Literature review indicates that with early referral to a surgeon and consequent preoperative vessel mapping, some type of fistula can be placed in up to 75% of patients1.

An adequate timeframe in which to complete pre-ESRD care and education and obtain pre-operative vascular mapping is essential for optimal timing and successful access placement1. Several studies have demonstrated the efficacy of preoperative vascular mapping to improve AVF patency rates when compared with preceding experience in which vascular mapping was not employed10–12., The impact of routine preoperative vascular mapping on the type and outcomes of vascular access placement was evaluated in a recent prospective study.  Vascular mapping resulted in an increase in the proportion of fistulae placed from 34 to 64% (p< 0.001) and significant improvement in primary patency.  Initial adequacy, in a subset of forearm fistulae, increased substantially from 34 to 54% (p=0.06) with the greatest improvement noted among women and diabetics12.

Change concept 4: Surgeon selection based on best outcomes, willingness, and ability to provide access services is reinforced by studies confirming that surgical training is paramount to both fistula placement and survival13,14. Analysis of the Dialysis Outcomes and Practice Patterns Study notes that risk of primary fistula failure was 34% lower (relative risk = 0.66, p = 0.002) when placed by surgeons who created >25 (vs. < 25) fistulae during training. Continuing strategies to enhance surgical training in fistula creation is crucial for decreasing primary fistula failure13,14.  Finally, the benefits of change concept 8, cannulation training for AVF, are evident in studies that show experienced nurses are able to predict AVF maturity 80% of the time6.

These examples are strong evidence of the success of medical management and program structure to decrease primary fistula failure and improve patient outcomes8.


  1. Allon M. Current management of vascular access. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2007;2(4):786-800. Available from:
  2. Schon D, Blume SW, Niebauer K, Hollenbeak CS, de Lissovoy G. Increasing the Use of Arteriovenous Fistula in Hemodialysis: Economic Benefits and Economic Barriers. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2007;2(2):268-276. Available from:
  3. Ravani P, Spergel LM, Asif A, Roy-Chaudhury P, Besarab A. Clinical epidemiology of arteriovenous fistula in 2007. J Nephrol. 2007;20(2):141-149. Available from:
  4. Maya ID, Allon M. Vascular Access: Core Curriculum 2008. Am J Kidney Dis. 2008;51(4):702-708. Available from:
  5. Maya ID, O’Neal JC, Young CJ, Barker-Finkel J, Allon M. Outcomes of Brachiocephalic Fistulas, Transposed Brachiobasilic Fistulas, and Upper Arm Grafts. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2009;4(1):86-92. Available from:
  6. Lok CE. Fistula first initiative: advantages and pitfalls. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2007;2(5):1043-1053. Available from:
  7. Lok CE, Allon M, Moist L, Oliver MJ, Shah H, Zimmerman D. Risk Equation Determining Unsuccessful Cannulation Events and Failure to Maturation in Arteriovenous Fistulas (REDUCE FTM I). J Am Soc Nephrol. 2006;17(11):3204-3212. Available from:
  8. Sands JJ. Vascular access: the past, present and future. Blood Purif. 2009;27(1):22-27. Available from:
  9. Lok CE, Huber TS, Lee T, et al. KDOQI Clinical Practice Guideline for Vascular Access: 2019 Update. Am J Kidney Dis. 2020;75(4, Supplement 2):S1-S164. Available from:
  10. Silva J, Hobson RW, Pappas PJ, et al. A strategy for increasing use of autogenous hemodialysis access procedures: Impact of preoperative noninvasive evaluation. J Vasc Surg. 1998;27(2):302-308. Available from:
  11. Huber TS, Ozaki CK, Flynn TC, et al. Prospective validation of an algorithm to maximize native arteriovenous fistulae for chronic hemodialysis access. J Vasc Surg. 2002;36(3):452-459. Available from:
  12. Allon M, Lockhart ME, Lilly RZ, et al. Effect of preoperative sonographic mapping on vascular access outcomes in hemodialysis patients. Kidney Int. 2001;60(5):2013-2020. Available from:
  13. Saran R, Elder SJ, Goodkin DA, et al. Enhanced training in vascular access creation predicts arteriovenous fistula placement and patency in hemodialysis patients: Results from the dialysis outcomes and practice patterns study. Ann Surg. 2008;247(5):885-891. Available from:
  14. O’Hare AM, Dudley RA, Hynes DM, et al. Impact of surgeon and surgical center characteristics on choice of permanent vascular access. Kidney Int. 2003;64(2):681-689. Available from:

P/N 101050-01 Rev A 03/2021