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Dialysis: What It Is and What to Expect

When kidneys fail to function effectively, dialysis is a life-saving treatment that performs the crucial tasks of filtering waste, excess fluids, and toxins from the blood. This blog provides an overview of dialysis treatment for kidney failure, exploring the different types of dialysis and what patients can expect during the process.

Understanding Dialysis

Dialysis is a medical procedure that replicates some of the functions of healthy kidneys. It is used for patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or severe kidney dysfunction. The main purposes of dialysis include:

  • Removing waste products and toxins from the blood.

  • Managing fluid levels in the body.

  • Balancing electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and bicarbonate.

Types of Dialysis

There are two primary types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Each type has its own method, advantages, and considerations.


Hemodialysis involves using a machine to filter waste and excess fluids from the blood. Here’s how it works:

  1. Access Point: Blood is accessed through a vascular access point, usually created in the arm (fistula or graft) or via a central venous catheter.

  2. Blood Filtration: Blood is drawn from the body and passed through a dialyzer, or artificial kidney, which contains a semipermeable membrane that filters out waste products.

  3. Clean Blood Return: The cleaned blood is then returned to the body.

Frequency and Duration: Hemodialysis is typically performed three times a week, with each session lasting about four hours.

What to Expect During Hemodialysis

  • Preparation: Patients will have their weight, blood pressure, and temperature checked before starting the session.

  • During Treatment: Patients can sit or recline comfortably while reading, watching TV, or napping. Nurses and technicians monitor vital signs and the dialysis machine.

  • After Treatment: Patients may feel tired or experience muscle cramps. Regular activities can usually be resumed after a short rest.

Peritoneal Dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis uses the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) as a natural filter. Here’s how it works:

  1. Catheter Placement: A catheter is surgically placed into the abdomen.

  2. Dialysate Solution: A sterile dialysate solution is infused into the abdominal cavity through the catheter.

  3. Waste Removal: The peritoneal membrane filters waste and excess fluids from the blood into the dialysate solution.

  4. Drain and Replace: After a set dwell time, the solution is drained and replaced with fresh dialysate.

Types of Peritoneal Dialysis:

  • Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD): Manual exchanges are done 3-5 times a day.

  • Automated Peritoneal Dialysis (APD): A machine (cycler) performs exchanges during the night while the patient sleeps.

What to Expect During Peritoneal Dialysis

  • Training: Patients and caregivers receive training on how to perform exchanges, maintain hygiene, and handle equipment.

  • Daily Routine: CAPD requires manual exchanges throughout the day, while APD allows for more flexibility as it is done overnight.

  • Monitoring: Regular monitoring of weight, blood pressure, and dialysate appearance is essential to detect any issues early.

Patient Experiences and Considerations

Hemodialysis Experiences

  • Time Commitment: The need for frequent clinic visits can be burdensome, but many patients adapt over time.

  • Lifestyle Adjustments: Diet and fluid intake must be carefully managed, and patients need to follow their healthcare provider’s advice.

  • Support System: Emotional and social support from family, friends, or support groups is crucial.

Peritoneal Dialysis Experiences

  • Flexibility: Offers more independence and can be done at home, making it easier to maintain a regular lifestyle.

  • Training and Hygiene: Requires thorough training and adherence to strict hygiene practices to prevent infections.

  • Storage: Supplies and equipment take up space at home, which may be a consideration for some patients.

Potential Complications

Both types of dialysis carry potential risks and complications:

Hemodialysis Risks

  • Infection: At the access site.

  • Low Blood Pressure: During or after treatment.

  • Muscle Cramps: Due to fluid and electrolyte shifts.

  • Access Problems: Such as clotting or narrowing of blood vessels.

Peritoneal Dialysis Risks

  • Peritonitis: Infection of the peritoneum.

  • Catheter Issues: Such as blockage or displacement.

  • Hernia: Due to increased pressure in the abdomen.

  • Weight Gain: From absorption of glucose in the dialysate.


Dialysis is a critical treatment for individuals with severe kidney dysfunction or kidney failure. Understanding the different types of dialysis and what to expect can help patients and their families prepare for and manage this life-sustaining therapy. Whether choosing hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis, it is essential to work closely with healthcare providers to ensure the best possible outcomes and maintain a good quality of life.

Additional Resources

For more information on dialysis and kidney health, consider exploring the following resources:

These resources provide valuable information and support for those looking to understand and manage dialysis treatment effectively.



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