How to understand and support dialysis patients

One of the scariest news a patient can receive is having a kidney disease or a kidney failure.  In spite of being surrounded by many people willing to help, these patients tend to feel lonely and overwhelmed when they have to face the news and the treatment proposed by doctors.  Even when some of them receive an optimistic diagnose for their condition and feel grateful about it, they cannot avoid worrying about how their lives will change from that moment on and the impact it would have on their core family members.  

dialysis patient_health_medicine_joe cosgrove

Image courtesy of Karol Franks at

As a companion you may feel in a similar way.  It is very difficult to know how to react when you do not know what to expect.  It is a good idea to try to understand what your loved one is experiencing by learning about kidney disease and its treatment.  You could either read about it or talk to an expert as this will help you honestly address fears and concerns you and your loved one may have.

What does the patient with kidney disease feel?

For many people, having a renal disease is like having the flu all the time, especially when it becomes worse.  Your loved one may:

  • Feel tired and weak to climb steps and walk around the block.  These activities can become very difficult for him or her.
    • feel cold all the time as if he or she had fever.
    • have trouble concentrating and can easily forget things.
    • sleep longer than considered normal.

You may think that these patients always feel this way, but these symptoms are usually due to anemia, low red blood cells, and that can be treated.  

  • Your loved one may also have some parts of his or her body swollen, like feet and ankles and / or hands and face.  Sometimes he or she cannot even put on their shoes.  This is due to the fact that when kidneys are failing, the body does not remove the excess of waste and fluid.  
  • The extra fluid in the lungs can make breathing difficult, which has been sometimes confused with asthma or pneumonia.  
  • Having plenty of fluids can strain the heart especially in people whose heart is already weakened by congestive kidney failure or other problems.

Undoubtedly, each patient is different; some people have some or most of the symptoms listed above while others insist that they feel good and their kidney disease has to be detected only through blood tests.  So, the best way to really know how your loved one feels is by asking him or her.

dialysis patient_joe cosgrove_support _kidney disease

Image courtesy of Karol Franks at

What are the emotional implications of kidney disease?

Most people who discover they have kidney failure and dialysis should be done are afraid of the whole situation at the beginning.  Besides feeling this way, it is also common to feel anger and / or guilt, as well as depression, which is also very common in any chronic disease.  This is part of grieving that they have lost their healthy nature and a “normal” life.  Of course, family, friends and close people around them may be affected, too. Searching for guidance with your doctor or health professionals can help you and your loved one see things more positively.  Remember to clarify with the doctor what your loved one can and cannot do now that the dialysis is being performed.  You may be surprised to know that your loved one will be able to continue to do most activities he or she did before undergoing this treatment.

It will be very helpful for your loved one and you speaking honestly about your feelings.  Doing it frequently has better cathartic effects as, in doing so, negative thoughts and feelings will remain under control and will give both of you more energy to focus on what really is important to your relationship.  Additionally, being able to communicate freely with each other will also help other family members, especially children, to share feelings and to ask questions.

How can you help your loved one to keep independent?

It is very common to see that when someone loved has a short-term disease, others “make charge” of the situation until there is improvement.  However, when people have a chronic illness, they need to learn how to live with it and do everything themselves, at least almost all they could do before.  It is understandable to have the desire to help, but it is important to be careful not to be preventing your loved one from doing things that he or she is still able to do.  It is better to encourage and expect your loved one to contribute to their treatment and daily activities in any way he or she can as it has a great impact on self-esteem.


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