What happens when your kidneys fail?
Healthy kidneys clean the blood by filtering out extra
water and wastes. They also make hormones that keep your
bones strong and blood healthy. When both of your kidneys fail, your
body holds fluid. Your blood pressure rises. Harmful wastes build up
in your body. Your body doesn't make enough red blood cells. You develop fatigue,
loss of appetite. When
this happens, you need treatment to replace the work of your failed
What are the treatments for kidney failure?
There are three options when treating kidney failure,
which will be discussed in length in the following sections:
- Peritoneal dialysis
- Kidney transplant
What is hemodialysis?
Hemodialysis is a procedure that cleans and filters your
blood. It rids your body of harmful wastes and extra salt
and fluids. It also controls blood pressure and helps your
body keep the proper balance of chemicals such as
potassium, sodium, and chloride.
How does hemodialysis work?
Hemodialysis uses a dialyzer, or special filter, to clean
your blood. The dialyzer connects to a machine. During
treatment, your blood travels through tubes into the
dialyzer. The dialyzer filters out wastes and extra fluids.
Then the newly cleaned blood flows through another set of
tubes and back into your body.
Getting ready for hemodialysis.
Before your first treatment, an access to your bloodstream
must be made. The access provides a way for blood to be
carried from your body to the dialysis machine and then
back into your body. The access can be internal (inside the
body -- usually under your skin) or external (outside the
Who performs hemodialysis?
Hemodialysis can be done at home or at a center. At a center, nurses
or trained technicians perform the treatment. At home, you perform
hemodialysis with the help of a partner, usually a family member or
friend. If you decide to do home dialysis, you and your partner will
receive special training.
How long does hemodialysis take?
Hemodialysis usually is done three times a week. Each
treatment lasts from 2 to 4 hours. During treatment, you
can read, write, sleep, talk, or watch TV.
What are possible complications of hemodialysis?
Side effects can be caused by rapid changes in your body's
fluid and chemical balance during treatment. Muscle cramps
and hypotension are two common side effects. Hypotension, a
sudden drop in blood pressure, can make you feel weak,
dizzy, or sick to your stomach.
It usually takes a few months to adjust to hemodialysis.
You can avoid many of the side effects if you follow the
proper diet and take your medicines as directed. You should
always report side effects to your doctor. They often can
be treated quickly and easily.
What foods are beneficial to hemodialysis treatment?
Hemodialysis and a proper diet help reduce the wastes that
build up in your blood. A dietitian can help you plan meals
according to your doctor's orders. When choosing foods, you
should remember to:
- Eat balanced amounts of foods high in protein such as
meat and chicken. Animal protein is better used by your
body than the protein found in vegetables and grains.
- Watch the amount of potassium you eat. Potassium is a
mineral found in salt substitutes, some fruits, vegetables,
milk, chocolate, and nuts. Too much or too little potassium
can be harmful to your heart.
- Limit how much you drink. Fluids build up quickly in
your body when your kidneys aren't working. Too much fluid
makes your tissues swell. It also can cause high blood
pressure and heart trouble.
- Avoid salt. Salty foods make you thirsty and cause your
body to hold water.
- Limit foods such as milk, cheese, nuts, dried beans,
and soft drinks. These foods contain the mineral
phosphorus. Too much phosphorus in your blood causes
calcium to be pulled from your bones. Calcium helps keep
bones strong and healthy. To prevent bone problems, your
doctor may give you special medicines. You must take these
medicines every day as directed.
What are the pros and cons of in-center hemodialysis?
Each person responds differently to similar situations. What may
be a negative factor for one person may be positive for another.
However, in general, the following are pros and cons for each type of
- You have trained professionals with you at all times.
- You can get to know other patients.
- Treatments are scheduled by the center.
- You must travel to the center for treatment.
What are the pros and cons of home hemodialysis?
- You can do it at the hours you choose. (But you still
must do it as often as your doctor orders.)
- You don't have to travel to a center.
- You gain a sense of independence and control over your
- Helping with treatments may be stressful to your
- You need training.
- You need space for storing the machine and supplies at
Questions you may want to ask your health care team
- Is hemodialysis the best treatment choice for me? Why
or why not?
- If I am treated at a center, can I go to the center of
- What does hemodialysis feel like? Does it hurt?
- What is self-care dialysis?
- How long does it take to learn home hemodialysis?
- Who will train my partner and me?
- What kind of blood access is best for me?
- As a hemodialysis patient, will I be able to keep
- Can I have treatments at night if I plan to keep
- How much should I exercise?
- Who will be on my health care team? How can they help
- Who can I talk with about sexuality, family problems,
or money concerns?
- How/where can I talk to other people who have faced
For more, please read the Hemodialysis