Medical Reviewing Editor:
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
When do patients require dialysis?
Patients usually require dialysis when the waste products in their body become so high that they start to become sick from them. The level of the waste products usually builds up slowly. Doctors measure several blood chemical levels to help decide when dialysis is necessary. The two major blood chemical levels that are measured are the "creatinine level" and the "blood urea nitrogen" (BUN) level. As these two levels rise, they are indicators of the decreasing ability of the kidneys to cleanse the body of waste products.
Doctors use a urine test, the "creatinine clearance," to measure the level of kidney function. The patient saves urine in a special container for one full day. The waste products in the urine and in the blood are estimated by measuring the creatinine. By comparing the blood and urine level of this substance, the doctor has an accurate idea of how well the kidneys are working. This result is called the creatinine clearance. Usually, when the creatinine clearance falls to 10-12 cc/minute, the patient needs dialysis.
The doctor uses other indicators of the patient's status to decide about the need for dialysis. If the patient is experiencing a major inability to rid the body of excess water, or is complaining of problems with the heart, lungs, or stomach, or difficulties with taste or sensation in their legs, dialysis may be indicated even though the creatinine clearance has not fallen to the 10-12 cc/minute level.
What types of dialysis are there?
There are two main types of dialysis: "hemodialysis" and "peritoneal dialysis." Hemodialysis uses a special type of filter to remove excess waste products and water from the body. Peritoneal dialysis uses a fluid that is placed into the patient's stomach cavity through a special plastic tube to remove excess waste products and fluid from the body.
During hemodialysis, blood passes from the patient's body through a filter in the dialysis machine, called a "dialysis membrane." For this procedure, the patient has a specialized plastic tube placed between an artery and a vein in the arm or leg (called a "gortex graft"). Sometimes, a direct connection is made between an artery and a vein in the arm. This procedure is called a "Cimino fistula." Needles are then placed in the graft or fistula, and blood passes to the dialysis machine, through the filter, and back to the patient. In the dialysis machine, a solution on the other side of the filter receives the waste products from the patient.
Peritoneal dialysis uses the patients own body tissues inside of the belly (abdominal cavity) to act as the filter. The intestines lie in the abdominal cavity, the space between the abdominal wall and the spine. A plastic tube called a "dialysis catheter" is placed through the abdominal wall into the abdominal cavity. A special fluid is then flushed into the abdominal cavity and washes around the intestines. The intestinal walls act as a filter between this fluid and the blood stream. By using different types of solutions, waste products and excess water can be removed from the body through this process.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/6/2014