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MP 2.02.22 Ultrafiltration in Decompensated Heart Failure

Medical Policy    
Original Policy Date
Last Review Status/Date
Reviewed with literature search/6:2013
  Return to Medical Policy Index




Our medical policies are designed for informational purposes only and are not an authorization, or an explanation of benefits, or a contract.  Receipt of benefits is subject to satisfaction of all terms and conditions of the coverage.  Medical technology is constantly changing, and we reserve the right to review and update our policies periodically.


Ultrafiltration is a technique being evaluated for removal of excess fluid from patients with volume overload and heart failure. Ultrafiltration removes fluid from the blood by using pressure differentials with dialysis equipment or similar filtration devices.


Heart failure is a relatively common problem and frequently results in hospitalizations and readmissions. Various approaches are being explored in treating this condition, especially when it is refractory (unresponsive) too conventional therapy. Ultrafiltration is one technique receiving increasing notice for a possible role in hospitalized patients with marked volume overload from heart failure. Ultrafiltration is a process utilized to remove fluid from the blood by using pressure differentials during treatment with a dialysis machine or similar filtration device.

Proponents of this technique suggest that it may offer the potential for greater and more expeditious volume and sodium removal compared with conventional therapies. Ultrafiltration is generally used for those with decompensated heart failure whose fluid overload is unresponsive to medical management. In recent studies, this technique is also referred to as aquapheresis. Work is also beginning on newer devices that allow continuous ultrafiltration in ambulatory patients.

Regulatory Status

In June 2002, the Aquadex™ FlexFlow™ System (CHF Solutions, Brooklyn Park, MN) was cleared for marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through the 510(k) process. An updated/amended 510(k) approval (classified as a high permeability dialysis system) was given in September 2007 following modifications. The FDA determined that this device was substantially equivalent to existing devices for use in temporary (up to 8 hours) ultrafiltration treatment of patients with fluid overload who have failed diuretic therapy, and for extended (longer than 8 hours) ultrafiltration treatment of patients with fluid overload who have failed diuretic therapy and require hospitalization.




The use of ultrafiltration is considered investigational in patients with heart failure.


Policy Guidelines


This policy does not apply to patients with renal failure being treated using dialysis.

There are no specific CPT codes for this procedure. There is an ICD-9 CM procedure code specific to the procedure:

99.78 Aquapheresis



Benefit Application

Bluecard/National Account Issues

State or federal mandates (e.g., FEP) may indicate that all FDA-approved devices may not be considered investigational and, thus, these devices may be assessed only on the basis of their medical necessity.




This policy was created in December 2006 and updated periodically with literature review. The most recent literature review covers the period of April 2012 through April 2013.

In evaluating this technology, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are needed to determine the comparative efficacy of ultrafiltration with conventional therapy. Heart failure is a condition with a variable natural history and multiple confounders of outcome; therefore, other study designs do not provide adequate evidence to control for these factors. The primary question that clinical trials should address is whether ultrafiltration improves important health outcomes. While removal of fluid and sodium (and weight) is important, these are viewed as surrogate outcomes. Information will be needed about impact on survival, hospitalization, complications, and quality of life for this treatment compared to comparable groups receiving conventional treatment. Since this treatment does not directly affect cardiac function, the overall impact on outcomes is difficult to predict. The studies published to date are very limited, both in terms of study population and in duration of follow-up.

Literature Review

The evidence on the efficacy of ultrafiltration consists of one multicenter RCT, the UNLOAD trial, and several smaller, single-center RCTs. The UNLOAD trial reports on physiologic and clinical outcomes, while the single-center studies primarily report on physiologic outcome measures.

Randomized, controlled trials

UNLOAD trial. The UNLOAD trial was a nonblinded trial that involved 200 patients hospitalized for heart failure and hypervolemia randomly assigned during the first 24 hours of hospitalization to ultrafiltration or usual care (diuretics). (1) The study was conducted during 1 year at 28 U.S. centers. Primary efficacy endpoints were 48-hour weight loss and dyspnea score (1–7 Likert scale). Primary safety endpoints were changes in blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, and electrolyte levels throughout hospitalization and 90-day follow-up, and episodes of hypotension requiring therapeutic intervention at 48 hours. At least 13 secondary efficacy endpoints are also listed, including length of index hospitalization, quality-of-life assessments throughout follow-up, and resource utilization (rehospitalization for heart failure, unscheduled office and emergency department visits) during follow-up. Results showed a weight loss of 5.0 versus 3.1 kg from baseline at 48 hours (p=0.001) for the ultrafiltration and usual care groups, respectively, with no difference in dyspnea scores between treatment groups. There was no difference in the length of stay of the index hospitalization, but the ultrafiltration group had a smaller percentage of patients rehospitalized for heart failure at 90 days (18% and 32%, respectively, p=0.037). There were no differences between treatment groups for quality-of-life assessments and renal function, except for a greater likelihood of hypokalemia in the diuretic group (p=0.018). An additional subgroup analysis compared the outcomes of the ultrafiltration group versus standard intravenous (IV) diuretics by continuous infusion or bolus injection. (2) Similar fluid loss was observed with ultrafiltration and continuous diuretic infusion, with similar outcomes to the original UNLOAD trial, that being fewer rehospitalizations for heart failure at 90 days only in patients who underwent ultrafiltration.

Detailed analysis of the UNLOAD study raises several methodologic concerns that could influence study results. The publication provided insufficient detail of patient status during the study. The authors reported that 20 patients died during the study (9 in the ultrafiltration group and 11 in the usual care group), but the timing of deaths was not reported. The study results, as reported, also raise concerns about dropout rates and patient follow-up for various outcome measures. For example, although 100 patients were randomly assigned to each group, at 48 hours, only 83, 80, and 69 patients in the ultrafiltration group and 84, 83, and 75 patients in the standard care group were reported in the assessment of the 3 primary outcomes (weight loss, dyspnea score, and change in serum creatinine level, respectively). For readmission at 90 days, while the denominators are reported as 89 for the treatment group and 87 for the usual care group, information from the report (Figure 2) lists 45 and 41 patients at risk, respectively, at 90 days. In addition, it is not clear from the methods that intention-to-treat analyses were performed; and, in spite of the many outcomes under study, there appears to be no statistical correction for multiple comparisons. Finally, neither participants nor investigators were blinded to treatment, which is a potential source of bias in outcomes such as re-hospitalizations, which are clinically based decisions.

In a small sub-study from the UNLOAD trial, Rogers et al. evaluated the consequences of ultrafiltration and standard intravenous diuretic (furosemide) therapy on glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and renal plasma flow in patients with acute decompensated heart failure. (3) In this study, patients hospitalized for acute decompensated heart failure with an ejection fraction less than 40% and 2 or more signs of hypervolemia were randomly assigned to receive ultrafiltration or intravenous diuretics. Urine output, GFR (as measured by iothalamate), and renal plasma flow (as measured by para-aminohippurate) were assessed before fluid removal and after 48 hours. For the 19 of 25 randomly assigned patients who completed the study (average age was 59 years, 68% were male), 9 received ultrafiltration and 10 received intravenous diuretics. The change in GFR (-3.4 mL/min vs. -3.6 mL/min), renal plasma flow (26.6 mL/min vs. 16.1 mL/min), and filtration fraction (-6.9 mL/min vs. -3.9 mL/min) after treatment were not significantly different between the ultrafiltration and furosemide treatment groups, respectively, in this small sample. There was no significant difference in net 48-hour fluid removal between the groups (-3,211 mL for ultrafiltration and -725 mL for furosemide, respectively, p=0.682). Urine output during 48 hours was significantly greater in the furosemide group. The authors concluded that during a 48-hour period, ultrafiltration did not cause any significant differences in renal hemodynamics compared with the standard treatment of intravenous diuretics.

CARRESS trial. Bart and colleagues reported a randomized trial of 188 patients hospitalized with acute decompensated heart failure which compared ultrafiltration with diuretic-based stepped pharmacologic therapy. (4) Patients participating in the study also had decreased renal function (serum creatinine >0.3 mg/dL) within 12 weeks prior to or up to 10 days after hospitalization for heart failure. Primary outcomes were changes in serum creatinine and body weight, as measured 96 hours after randomization. The ultrafiltration group experienced a significant increase in serum creatinine levels (0.23 +/- 0.70 mg/dL) compared to the pharmacologic therapy group which had a decrease in serum creatinine levels (0.04 +/- 0.53 mg/dL [p=0.003]). Mean weight loss was not significantly different between groups (5.5 +/- 5.1 kg [12.1 +/- 11.3 lb] in the pharmacologic therapy group versus 5.7 +/- 3.9kg [12.6 +/- 8.5 lb] in the ultrafiltration group [p=0.58]). Serious adverse events occurred more frequently in the ultrafiltration group during the 60-day follow-up period compared to the pharmacologic therapy group (72% vs. 57%, respectively, [p=0.03]). Serious adverse events included kidney failure, bleeding complications and complications related to intravenous catheters.

RAPID-CHF trial. Bart and colleagues reported on a small randomized trial involving 40 hospitalized patients with heart failure that investigated safety and efficacy, in which an 8-hour ultrafiltration session with usual care was compared to usual care alone. (5) The primary endpoint was weight (fluid) loss after 24 hours. Weight loss was 2.5 kg in the experimental group and 1.86 kg in the usual care group (p=0.24); differences in fluid removal (4,650 mL vs. 2,838 mL, respectively) were statistically significant (p=0.001).

Badawy and Fahmy. This was an RCT of 40 patients with heart failure in Egypt. (6) Patients were randomized to 72 hours of ultrafiltration versus diuretics. Weight loss and total fluid output were greater in the ultrafiltration group, and length of stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) was less for the ultrafiltration group. There were no significant differences between groups in 30-day mortality, cardiac output, or stroke volume.

Hanna et al. This single-center study from the U.S. evaluated 36 patients with advanced heart failure admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). (7) Patients were randomized to ultrafiltration or conventional care. The primary endpoint was the time required for the pulmonary capillary wedge pressure to be maintained at 18 mm Hg or lower for 4 consecutive hours, and there was no significant difference on this endpoint between groups. There were also no significant differences in kidney function, cardiac biomarkers, or adverse events. The ultrafiltration group had a significantly greater weight reduction, a higher total volume of fluid removed, and a shorter length of stay.

ULTRADISCO study. The Effects of Ultrafiltration versus diuretics on clinical, biohumoral and hemodynamic variables in patients with decompensated heart failure (ULTRADISCO) study randomized 30 patients to ultrafiltration or diuretics. (8) There was improvement for the ultrafiltration group on a number of hemodynamic measures, including cardiac index, stroke volume index, cardiac power output, cardiac efficiency, and systemic vascular resistance. There were no significant differences between groups on symptom scores, New York Heart Association (NYHA) class, amount of fluid removed, or creatinine levels.

Nonrandomized, comparative studies.

A study by Jaski et al. compared short- and long-term outcomes, results, and risk profiles from 100 consecutive patients with cardiovascular disorders and recognized pulmonary and systemic volume overload treated with a simplified ultrafiltration system with findings reported from the Acute Decompensated Heart Failure National Registry (ADHERE). (9) Over a period of 43 months, 100 patients (76 men/24 women, 65 +/- 14.0 years of age, systolic dysfunction 64%) were treated with ultrafiltration at the discretion of the attending physician during 130 hospitalizations. By using ultrafiltration, 7.1 +/- 3.9 L of ultrafiltrate was removed during 2.0 +/- 1.2 treatments per hospitalization. In hospitalizations with a principal diagnosis of heart failure (n=79), in-hospital mortality was 7.6% compared with an ADHERE estimated mortality of 7.5%.

Case series.

Numerous case series report on outcomes of ultrafiltration, but these studies do not provide useful information on the comparative efficacy of ultrafiltration with conventional management. Examples of some of these case series are described below.

Dev and colleagues analyzed data from a cohort of 72 heart failure patients who received ultrafiltration therapy after inadequate response to medical therapy. (10) While body weight decreased and fluid removal increased significantly with ultrafiltration, renal function deteriorated. In 43% of patients, a 20% or more decrease in the estimated glomerular filtration rate (GFR) was seen. Dialysis was required in 10% of patients and 13% died. Patarroyo et al. found no improvement in renal function in 63 consecutive acute decompensated heart failure patients treated with slow continuous ultrafiltration. (11) Serum creatinine levels were 2.2 +/- 0.9 mg/dL on admission versus 2.4 +/- 1 mg/dL after slow continuous ultrafiltration (p=0.12). Conversion to continuous hemodialysis occurred in 59% of patients while 14% were dialysis-dependent upon discharge and 30% died during hospitalization.

A study by Giglioli et al. from Italy compared hemodynamic parameters in 15 patients before and after slow continuous ultrafiltration (SCUF). (12) The authors were able to demonstrate a significant inverse relationship between volumes of fluid removed utilizing this SCUF method and clinical measures of weight (-7.4%, p<0.01), edema and dyspnea, diuretic resistance, and plasma brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) levels (21,810 +/- 13,016 to 8,581 +/- 5,549, p<0.01). Dahle and colleagues reported results in 9 patients with acute decompensated heart failure. (13) They used a “portable” machine with peripheral intravenous catheters that did not require dialysis or intensive care unit stay. The mean length of time for ultrafiltration was 33 hours, with removal of a mean volume of 7.0 liters and mean weight loss of 6.2 kg. Researchers in Italy published a case series on a wearable device on humans. (14) Six subjects with volume overload were treated for 6 hours with the novel system. Fluid removal rate ranged from 116 mL/h to 288 mL/h, at an overall average blood flow rate of 116 mL/min. Sodium removal averaged 151 mmol over the 6 hours. Each patient in the study maintained cardiovascular stability. The authors speculate that a device designed to operate continuously at a slower hourly rate would avoid the cardiovascular instability that requires monitoring and could have an impact on outcomes.

Ongoing Clinical Trials

A search of online site in April 2013 identified several ongoing studies incorporating ultrafiltration in heart failure patients. The largest ongoing study is the AVOID-HF (Aquapheresis versus Intravenous Diuretics and Hospitalizations for Heart Failure) trial. (NCT01474200) In this randomized trial, ultrafiltration will be compared with intravenous diuretics in 810 patients at 40 sites in the United States. Primary outcomes will be rates and timing of heart failure events within 90 days after treatment.


Ultrafiltration is a technique being evaluated for removal of excess fluid from patients with volume overload and heart failure. Ultrafiltration removes fluid from the blood by using pressure differentials with dialysis equipment or similar filtration devices.

The evidence on ultrafiltration for refractory heart failure is insufficient to form conclusions on whether health outcomes are improved. Several randomized studies report improvements on physiologic measures, and some report reductions in ICU stay and/or readmissions for heart failure. However, these trials do not demonstrate improvement on relevant clinical outcomes, and the improvements in physiologic parameters and utilization measures are not consistent across studies. Additionally, there have been reports of significant worsening of renal function and serious adverse events following ultrafiltration in acute heart failure patients. Further study is warranted to identify whether there may be appropriate patient groups for ultrafiltration and to define patient selection criteria. Finally, there are some methodologic limitations in the available trials, and the outcomes reported are short to medium term. For these reasons, the use of ultrafiltration for refractory heart failure is considered investigational.

Practice Guidelines and Position Statements

Consensus statements give limited recommendations regarding the clinical value of ultrafiltration in the treatment of patients with heart failure. The Heart Failure Society of America’s (HFSA) 2010 Comprehensive Heart Failure Practice Guidelines indicate ultrafiltration may be considered for the treatment of acute decompensated heart failure fluid overload in lieu of diuretics. (Level B evidence- cohort or smaller studies) The HFSA guidelines also indicate ultrafiltration may be considered when congestion continues despite diuretic therapy. (Level C evidence - opinion) (15) The European Society of Cardiology Task Force's guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of acute heart failure stated that ultrafiltration should be considered to reduce fluid overload in selected patients and to correct hyponatremia in symptomatic patients who are refractory to diuretics. (16) The guidelines noted, however, that the appropriate selection criteria for ultrafiltration have not been established. The 2009 ACCF/AHA Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Heart Failure in Adults (under Recommendations for Hospitalized Patient) lists ultrafiltration as a Class IIa recommendation (benefit greater than risk, additional studies needed) and a Level of Evidence of B (conflicting evidence). (17) The new recommendation states “Ultrafiltration is reasonable for patients with refractory congestion not responding to medical therapy.”

Medicare National Coverage

No national coverage determination.


  1. Costanzo MR, Guglin ME, Saltzberg MT et al. Ultrafiltration versus intravenous diuretics for patients hospitalized for acute decompensated heart failure. J Am Coll Cardiol 2007; 49(6):675-83.
  2. Costanzo MR, Saltzberg MT, Jessup M et al. Ultrafiltration is associated with fewer rehospitalizations than continuous diuretic infusion in patients with decompensated heart failure: results from UNLOAD. J Card Fail 2010; 16(4):277-84.
  3. Rogers HL, Marshall J, Bock J et al. A randomized, controlled trial of the renal effects of ultrafiltration as compared to furosemide in patients with acute decompensated heart failure. J Card Fail 2008; 14(1):1-5.
  4. Bart BA, Goldsmith SR, Lee KL et al. Ultrafiltration in decompensated heart failure with cardiorenal syndrome. N Engl J Med 2012; 367(24):2296-304.
  5. Bart BA, Boyle A, Bank AJ et al. Ultrafiltration versus usual care for hospitalized patients with heart failure: the Relief for Acutely Fluid-Overloaded Patients With Decompensated Congestive Heart Failure (RAPID-CHF) trial. J Am Coll Cardiol 2005; 46(11):2043-6.
  6. Badawy SS, Fahmy A. Efficacy and cardiovascular tolerability of continuous veno-venous hemodiafiltration in acute decompensated heart failure: a randomized comparative study. J Crit Care 2012; 27(1):106 e7-13.
  7. Hanna MA, Tang WH, Teo BW et al. Extracorporeal ultrafiltration vs. conventional diuretic therapy in advanced decompensated heart failure. Congest Heart Fail 2012; 18(1):54-63.
  8. Giglioli C, Landi D, Cecchi E et al. Effects of ULTRAfiltration vs. DIureticS on clinical, biohumoral and haemodynamic variables in patients with deCOmpensated heart failure: the ULTRADISCO study. Eur J Heart Fail 2011; 13(3):337-46.
  9. Jaski BE, Romeo A, Ortiz B et al. Outcomes of volume-overloaded cardiovascular patients treated with ultrafiltration. J Card Fail 2008; 14(6):515-20.
  10. Dev S, Shirolkar SC, Stevens SR et al. Reduction in body weight but worsening renal function with late ultrafiltration for treatment of acute decompensated heart failure. Cardiology 2012; 123(3):145-53.
  11. Patarroyo M, Wehbe E, Hanna M et al. Cardiorenal outcomes after slow continuous ultrafiltration therapy in refractory patients with advanced decompensated heart failure. J Am Coll Cardiol 2012; 60(19):1906-12.
  12. Giglioli C, Landi D, Gensini GF et al. Cardiac efficiency improvement after slow continuous ultrafiltration is assessed by beat-to-beat minimally invasive monitoring in congestive heart failure patients: a preliminary report. Blood Purif 2010; 29(1):44-51.
  13. Dahle TG, Blake D, Ali SS et al. Large volume ultrafiltration for acute decompensated heart failure using standard peripheral intravenous catheters. J Card Fail 2006; 12(5):349-52.
  14. Gura V, Ronco C, Nalesso F et al. A wearable hemofilter for continuous ambulatory ultrafiltration. Kidney Int 2008; 73(4):497-502.
  15. Heart Failure Society of America, Lindenfeld J, Albert NM et al. HFSA 2010 Comprehensive Heart Failure Practice Guideline. J Card Fail 2010; 16(6):e1-194.
  16. Dickstein K, Cohen-Solal A, Filippatos G et al. ESC guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic heart failure 2008: the Task Force for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic heart failure 2008 of the European Society of Cardiology. Developed in collaboration with the Heart Failure Association of the ESC (HFA) and endorsed by the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM). Eur J Heart Fail 2008; 10(10):933-89.
  17. Jessup M, Abraham WT, Casey DE et al. 2009 focused update: ACCF/AHA Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Heart Failure in Adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines: developed in collaboration with the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation. Circulation 2009; 119(14):1977-2016.


Codes Number Description
CPT no specific code  
ICD-9 Diagnosis   Investigational for all relevant diagnoses
428.0-428.9 Heart failure code range
ICD-9 Procedure 99.78 Aquapheresis
ICD-10-CM (effective 10/1/14)     Investigational for all relevant diagnoses
ICD-10-PCS (effecitve 10/1/14)     No code specific to ultrafiltration
    5A1D00Z, 5A1D60Z Hemodialysis code list (extracorporeal assistance and performance, urinary, filtration)
Type of Service Cardiology  
Place of Service Inpatient  



Heart Failure

Policy History 


Add to Medicine

Cardiology Section

New Policy
03/13/08 Replace policy 

Policy updated with literature search; policy statement unchanged,

reference number 6 added.

05/14/09 Replace policy

Policy updated with literature search; reference numbers 7 to 10 added;

no change in policy statement

06/10/10 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search; reference numbers 9 to 11 added; no change in policy statement
6/9/11 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search; reference number 2 added; no change in policy statement.
06/14/12 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search; references 5 - 7 added; no change in policy statement.
6/13/13 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search through April 2013; references 4, 10-11 and 15 added, reference 12 deleted; no change in policy statement.