What are dialysis and hemodialysis?
Dialysis cleanses the body of waste products in the body by use of filter systems. There are two types of dialysis, 1) hemodialysis, and 2) peritoneal dialysis.
Hemodialysis uses a machine filter called a dialyzer or artificial kidney to remove excess water and salt, to balance the other electrolytes in the body, and to remove waste products of metabolism. Blood is removed from the body and flows through tubing into the machine, where it passes next to a filter membrane. A specialized chemical solution (dialysate) flows on the other side of the membrane. The dialysate is formulated to draw impurities from the blood through the filter membrane. Blood and dialysate never touch in the artificial kidney machine.
For this type of dialysis, access to the blood vessels needs to be surgically created so that large amounts of blood can flow into the machine and back to the body. Surgeons can build a fistula, a connection between a large artery and vein in the body, usually in the arm, that allows a large amount of blood flow into the vein. This makes the vein swell or dilate, and its walls become thicker so that it can tolerate repeated needle sticks to attach tubing from the body to the machine. Since it takes many weeks or months for a fistula to mature enough to be used, significant planning is required if hemodialysis is to be considered as an option.
If the kidney failure happens acutely and there is no time to build a fistula, special catheters may be inserted into the larger blood vessels of the arm, leg, or chest. These catheters may be left in place for weeks. In some diseases, the need for dialysis will be temporary, but if the expectation is that dialysis will continue for a prolonged period of time, these catheters act as a bridge until a fistula can be planned, placed, and matured.
Dialysis treatments normally occur three times a week and last a few hours at a time. Most commonly, patients travel to an outpatient center to have dialysis, but home dialysis therapy is becoming an option for some.
Outpatient dialysis is available on some cruise ships. They are equipped with dialysis machines with trained health care professionals ready to care for those with kidney failure while traveling.