Kidney Dialysis / Hemodialysis

What is Kidney Dialysis?

Hemodialysis is a treatment that does some of the things done by healthy kidneys. It is needed when your own kidneys can no longer take care of your body's needs.

When is Hemodialysis Needed?

You need dialysis when you develop end stage kidney failure - usually by the time you lose about 85 to 90 percent of your kidney function. You may have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, swelling and fatigue. However, even if you don't have these symptoms yet, you can still have a high level of wastes in your blood that may be toxic to your body. Your doctor is the best person to tell you when you should start dialysis.

What Does Hemodialysis Do?

Like healthy kidneys, dialysis keeps your body in balance. Hemodialysis does the following:

  • Removes waste, salt and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body
  • Keeps a safe level of certain chemicals in your blood, such as potassium, sodium and bicarbonate
  • Helps to control blood pressure

How Long Do Hemodialysis Treatments Last?

Usually, each hemodialysis treatment lasts about four hours and is done three times per week.

The time needed for your dialysis depends on:

  • How well your kidneys work
  • How much fluid weight you gain between treatments
  • How much waste you have in your body
  • Your size
  • The type of artificial kidney used

Where is Hemodialysis Done?

Dialysis can be done in a dialysis unit or at home. You and your doctor will decide which place is best, based on your medical condition and preference.

What is Peritoneal Dialysis and How Does It Work?

Peritoneal dialysis (PD) allows your blood to be cleaned inside your body. The doctor will do surgery to place a plastic tube called a catheter into your abdomen (belly) to make an access. During the treatment, your abdominal area (called the peritoneal cavity) is slowly filled with dialysate through the catheter. The blood stays in the arteries and veins that line your peritoneal cavity. Extra fluid and waste products are drawn out of your blood and into the dialysate. PD allows for convenience in that it can be done at home.

Is Kidney Failure Permanent?

Not always. Some kinds of acute kidney failure get better after treatment. In some cases of acute kidney failure, dialysis may only be needed for a short time until the kidneys get better. In chronic or end-stage kidney failure, your kidneys do not get better and you will need dialysis for the rest of your life. If your doctor says you are a candidate, you may choose to be placed on a waiting list for a new kidney.

© 2015 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.