Hemodialysis (cont.)

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.

Picture of Graft
Picture of Graft

Dialysis Machine

The dialysis machine is about the size of a dishwasher. This machine has three main jobs:

  • pump blood and watch flow for safety
  • clean wastes from blood
  • watch your blood pressure and the rate of fluid removal from your body

Dialyzer

Picture of Dialyzer
Picture of Dialyzer

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.

  • Reuse. Your dialysis center may use the same dialyzer more than once for your treatments. Reuse is considered safe as long as the dialyzer is cleaned before each use. The dialyzer is tested each time to make sure it's still working, and it should never be used for anyone but you. Before each session, you should be sure that the dialyzer is labeled with your name and check to see that it has been cleaned, disinfected, and tested.

Dialysis Solution

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.

Needles

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.

Picture of Arterial and Venous Needles
Picture of Arterial and Venous Needles

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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/3/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Hemodialysis - Adjusting to Changes Question: What methods did you use to cope with the changes in your life as you began dialysis treatment.
Hemodialysis - Diet Question: What diet did your doctor recommend as you started dialysis treatment?
Hemodialysis - Patient Experience Question: Have you or a family member had to undergo hemodialysis treatment? Please share your experience.

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!