This treatment is typically required when less than 15 percent of your kidney function remains.
Hemodialysis is a treatment that performs the job of the kidneys when they stop working properly.
During hemodialysis, a machine removes salt, water, and waste products from your blood.
The treatment can help control blood pressure and balance levels of vitamins and minerals in the body.
Hemodialysis is used in people with end-stage kidney failure, which is the last stage of chronic kidney disease.
It’s also used in people who suffer from acute kidney injury.
Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney cysts, kidney inflammation, and other illnesses can lead to kidney failure.
Typically, your doctor will put you on dialysis when 10 to 15 percent of your kidney function is left.
The Hemodialysis Procedure
Hemodialysis is usually performed at a dialysis center or hospital, or at home.
Two needles are inserted into your arm, and each is attached to a flexible plastic tube that connects to a dialyzer (a filter that cleans your blood).
The dialyzer takes your blood in through one tube. It allows extra fluids and wastes to pass from your blood into a cleansing fluid.
The filtered blood is then returned to your body through a second tube.
You can sit in a chair and watch TV, read, or nap while you receive hemodialysis.
Most people have about three treatments a week, each of which takes about three to four hours.
If you receive hemodialysis at home, you may have shorter treatments more often, and you may receive the therapy while you sleep.
Home dialysis is typically performed six to seven days a week for two to three hours at a time.
A nurse or other expert will train you on how to do your dialysis at home.
Some studies have shown that home dialysis results in a better quality of life and fewer unwanted side effects.
Before you start receiving dialysis, your doctor will need to create an access site that allows blood to travel from your blood vessel to the dialyzer.
This minor surgery is usually performed in the arm.
Before each dialysis treatment, your doctor may check your weight, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. The skin around your access site will be cleansed.
When a dialysis treatment is complete, the needles are removed, and a pressure dressing is applied to prevent bleeding.
Your doctor may check your weight again.
You'll probably need blood tests often to check how well the treatment is working. Keep all appointments with your doctor and/or lab.
Be sure to tell your doctor about any unusual or severe side effects.
During or after your treatment, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Muscle cramps
- Headache, nausea, or dizziness
- Low blood pressure
- High blood pressure
- Trouble sleeping
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Bone diseases
- Fluid overload (too much fluid in the blood)
- Inflammation of the membrane around the heart
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- High potassium levels
- Infection or blockage of your access site
- Amyloidosis (proteins in the blood are deposited on joints and tendons)
Your doctor will probably tell you to follow a special diet while you're receiving dialysis.
Most people are advised to eat more protein and limit their consumption of potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and fluids.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your individual needs.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Dialysis – hemodialysis; MedlinePlus.
- Hemodialysis; Mayo Clinic.
- Hemodialysis; National Kidney Foundation.