Your kidneys help filter waste, excess fluid and toxins from your blood. They are also important for blood cell production and bone health. If kidneys don’t work properly, harmful substances build up in the body, blood pressure can rise and too much fluid can collect in the body’s tissues, which leads to swelling, called edema. If your kidneys fail, you need a life-saving dialysis to take over their job.
Kidney dialysis is a life-support treatment that uses a special machine to filter harmful wastes, salt and excess fluid from your blood. This restores the blood to a normal, healthy balance. Dialysis replaces many of the kidney’s functions.
There are different types of kidney dialysis, including:
- Hemodialysis – Blood is filtered using dialyzer and dialysis machine.
- Peritoneal Dialysis – Blood is filtered inside the body after the abdomen is filled with a special cleaning solution.
Kidney dialysis is a necessary treatment for people with end-stage kidney disease or permanent kidney failure. You need dialysis if you've lost about 85% to 90% of your kidney function.
Hemodialysis is most commonly used to treat people with end-stage kidney disease. However, children who need dialysis usually receive peritoneal dialysis.
The kidney dialysis treatment itself usually does not cause any pain or discomfort. However, some patients may develop low blood pressure, which can lead to headache, cramping, nausea, and vomiting. This usually goes away after a few treatments.
If you are on dialysis, you may also feel like:
You have less energy. Dialysis can cause you to feel tired.
You are depressed. Depression is a common problem among many patients on dialysis, but it can often be treated.
You may also feel like you have less time to get things done. Kidney dialysis requires strict scheduling and adjustments to lifestyle, which can disrupt your ability to work or enjoy everyday activities.
Most patients on hemodialysis require treatments three times a week for three to five hours or more a day. This is often done at a dialysis center or hospital. Patients who are on peritoneal dialysis have a little more independence, since this type does not have to be done at a clinic. It can be performed while you go about your daily activities or sleep.
Catheter-related infections are a common concern for people who are on peritoneal dialysis. Keeping your catheter area clean and bacteria-free helps prevent dangerous infections. If an infection affects the peritoneal cavity, you will not be able to continue with peritoneal dialysis.
Diet Considerations during Dialysis
Following a kidney-specific diet is very important to the success of your dialysis treatment. Diets can differ depending on the type of dialysis you get. For example, you will likely need to limit fluids and salt. Keep in mind that fluids aren't just found in drinks. Soups, fruits, and even ice cream contain plenty of water than can affect your body's water balance.
You may also be told to limit foods that are rich in phosphorus and potassium and to eat a high-protein diet.
How to Know if Kidney Dialysis Is Working
You will have blood tests done, about once a month, to determine if kidney dialysis is removing enough wastes from your body. Your health care provider will specifically look at the level of blood urea nitrogen, which provides an overall measurement for the amount of waste products in your body. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and bicarbonate will also be monitored.
Dialysis is not a cure for kidney failure. If your kidneys do not work, and you stop dialysis, your kidneys will continue to fail. You cannot live without at least one functioning kidney, unless you get a kidney transplant. Without a kidney transplant, you will need dialysis for the rest of your life.