In this Article
Adjusting to Changes
Even in the best situations, adjusting to the effects of kidney failure and the time you spend on dialysis can be difficult. Aside from the "lost time," you may have less energy. You may need to make changes in your work or home life, giving up some activities and responsibilities. Keeping the same schedule you kept when your kidneys were working can be very difficult now that your kidneys have failed. Accepting this new reality can be very hard on you and your family. A counselor or social worker can answer your questions and help you cope.
Many patients feel depressed when starting dialysis, or after several months of treatment. If you feel depressed, you should talk with your social worker, nurse, or doctor because this is a common problem that can often be treated effectively.
Getting Your Vascular Access Ready
One important step before starting hemodialysis is preparing a vascular access, a site on your body from which your blood is removed and returned. A vascular access should be prepared weeks or months before you start dialysis. It will allow easier and more efficient removal and replacement of your blood with fewer complications. For more information about the different kinds of vascular accesses and how to care for them, see the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) fact sheet Vascular Access for Hemodialysis.
Equipment and Procedures
When you first visit a hemodialysis center, it may seem like a complicated mix of machines and people. But once you learn how the procedure works and become familiar with the equipment, you'll be more comfortable.
The dialysis machine is about the size of a dishwasher. This machine has three main jobs:
The dialyzer is a large canister containing thousands of small fibers through which your blood is passed. Dialysis solution, the cleansing fluid, is pumped around these fibers. The fibers allow wastes and extra fluids to pass from your blood into the solution, which carries them away. The dialyzer is sometimes called an artificial kidney.
Dialysis solution, also known as dialysate, is the fluid in the dialyzer that helps remove wastes and extra fluid from your blood. It contains chemicals that make it act like a sponge. Your doctor will give you a specific dialysis solution for your treatments. This formula can be adjusted based on how well you handle the treatments and on your blood tests.
Many people find the needle sticks to be one of the hardest parts of hemodialysis treatments. Most people, however, report getting used to them after a few sessions. If you find the needle insertion painful, an anesthetic cream or spray can be applied to the skin. The cream or spray will numb your skin briefly so you won't feel the needle.
Most dialysis centers use two needles-one to carry blood to the dialyzer and one to return the cleaned blood to your body. Some specialized needles are designed with two openings for two-way flow of blood, but these needles are less efficient and require longer sessions. Needles for high-flux or high-efficiency dialysis need to be a little larger than those used with regular dialyzers.
Some people prefer to insert their own needles. You'll need training on inserting needles properly to prevent infection and protect your vascular access. You may also learn a "ladder" strategy for needle placement in which you "climb" up the entire length of the access session by session so that you don't weaken an area with a grouping of needle sticks. A different approach is the "buttonhole" strategy in which you use a limited number of sites but insert the needle back into the same hole made by the previous needle stick. Whether you insert your own needles or not, you should know these techniques to better care for your access.