What You Need To Know About Dialysis

Dialysis is a treatment and an artificial process that removes waste and extra fluid from the blood of patients whose kidneys cannot eliminate properly. Dialysis also helps to maintain the balance in the body by correcting the levels of various toxic substances in the blood. Without dialysis, all patients with terminal renal failure die as a result of the accumulation of toxins in the blood.

Dialysis is advised for patients who suffer from kidney disease, kidney failure or overload of fluids, potassium and acid.  It should be understood that dialysis does not cure kidney disease or other problems affecting the kidneys, but it can improve the quality of life of patients whose kidneys fail to work.  Some patients can even live a fairly normal life for many years with the help of this treatment.

Doctor greating patient

Image courtesy of Vic at Flickr.com

Generalities of Dialysis

There are two types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Regardless of the chosen method, the mission of each is very similar. Dialysis is designed to replace some of the functions of the kidney by filtering and purifying blood artificially. The treatment must eliminate the waste products and excess fluid, and balance the amount of electrolytes and other substances in the body. An effective dialysis requires a semi-permeable membrane, blood, dialysis fluid and a method to remove excess fluid.

During the dialysis, a semipermeable membrane separates the blood from the dialysis fluid. This membrane allows the passage of some substances but not others. It allows waste products, water, electrolytes, and other substances to pass from the blood into the dialysis fluid (and sometimes in the opposite direction) through a process called diffusion. The movement of waste and other substances depends on the permeability of the membrane, the size and the structure of these substances, the constitution of the dialysis fluid and the amount of blood in contact with the membrane.

The greater the amount of blood in contact with the membrane, the greater the efficiency of the dialysis treatment. In hemodialysis, the blood supply can be controlled by the dialysis machine.

In both dialysis methods, the dialysis fluid allows to eliminate the waste from the blood. Additionally, it contains several substances that help to correct imbalances that occur as a result of end-stage renal failure.

Liquid elimination is achieved in hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis by distinct processes. In hemodialysis, the dialysis machine uses pressure to extract the liquid from the blood through the membrane, and this passes into the dialysis fluid. In peritoneal dialysis, the glucose present in the dialysis fluid is used. This causes the excess fluid to leave the blood and pass into the dialysis fluid to be eliminated periodically.

Associated Risks

While both dialysis treatments can help a patient’s condition and even save lives, there are risks associated with them as well.  Peritoneal dialysis is associated with an elevated risk of infections around the catheter site in the abdominal cavity, whereas hemodialysis is associated with risks such as low blood pressure, anemia, muscle cramping, difficulty sleeping, itching, depression, among others.

Doctors Patient and Xray_dialysis_joe cosgrove_kidney disease, kidney failure

Image courtesy of andyde at Flickr.com

How to Prepare

There are ways to help prepare patients for dialysis and have the right attitude during the treatment.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Study all that is related to your condition: Understand your condition and learn about the equipment used to treat you.
  • Be surrounded by supportive people:  Talk to your loved ones and friends about your need for dialysis and how you are feeling. Get support in order to help you feel prepared for dialysis.
  • Get informed to make the right decisions:  Discuss your treatment options with your nephrologist so you can work together and find the most appropriate therapy.
  • You are not alone: Talk to people who can identify with you. Other dialysis patients can help you understand everything there is to know, and help you prepare for the dialysis.
  • Follow a healthy diet:  A dietitian that has experience with renal patients will guide you through the creation of a food plan and recipes, and will help you renew your grocery shopping list. This new diet will include foods that are customized to your kidney’s needs.
  • Follow your treatment: Patients under dialysis treatment will often have to take a significant amount of medicines and following your planned schedule faithfully is really important.  

It is normal to have questions and concerns about the treatment but learning about dialysis can help a patient dissipate fears and take an active role in the process.   As we mentioned earlier, even though dialysis does not cure kidney disease, it does help patients live longer and better.  Following a healthy diet and going through the treatment faithfully can have a positive impact on results.

If you want to know more about renal health, read the article “Renal Compensation: Definition, importance and cares” by Joe Cosgrove by clicking here.


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