What is it like to live with dialysis?

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In the United States at least 217,000 patients need to live with dialysis. This represents national costs for over $11 billion dollars every year. This procedure needs to take place when the kidneys are unable to filter fluids and their full capacity is lost. Sometimes, patients who need to live with dialysis have to do so because they were born with a kidney condition and they cannot afford a kidney transplant.

Statistically speaking, this is a dramatic situation for thousands of people in the United States. However, most patients seem to believe that dialysis is not such a terrible thing and they have adapted to a “new normal life”. But, what does it means to live with dialysis? In this article, Joe Cosgrove will share some details related to the way patients learn to have regular lives while they depend on dialysis to survive.

The Experience

First of all, when a patient decides that it is time to go under dialysis treatment it is because its kidneys are not able to do their job. This means that dialysis becomes the only alternative to survive. Keeping this in mind makes it easier and more motivating to people who need to go under treatment.

During a regular dialysis routine, the patient needs to come to the dialysis clinic and meet the nurse at the counter. Papers and forms will be filled out and a short checkup will take place. Since most patients have done this a thousand times, the process usually doesn’t take long.

After the checkup, the patient settles into one of the comfortable recliners inside the room where the process usually takes place. The patient may be the only one in the room or not, depending on the day and time it decides to go and get the treatment.

After settling, the patient will need to prop its left arm, allowing the technician to slip a couple needles into its blood vessels (close to the wrist). One of the needles is in charge of removing the blood and the other one is in charge of taking it back to the body. These needles are attached to plastic tubes that at the same time are connected to the dialysis machine.

For the next three hours, the needles will do their job and the patient’s blood will be filtered. All this is possible thanks to the dialysis machine that stands still next to the patient’s recliner. Most patients bring a book or spend this time watching a movie or a TV show on Netflix. Sometimes, this is even the perfect moment to take a nap.

Besides from the initial moment of the procedure, when the needles need to be stuck on your veins, the dialysis process doesn’t hurt. Sometimes patients may feel dazed and their blood pressure can drop. But, other than that, the process takes place in a comfortable way.

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Living with dialysis is supposed to make things easier for patients with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). However, the mortality rates in the United States remain to be considerably high compared to those in Japan or Europe since many patients choose to skip the procedure or don’t accept it to last for too many hours.

Related: How To Make The Most Out Of Your Time On Dialysis

How Dialysis Works

The best way to describe the dialysis process is as an artificial kidney. This means that dialysis should be able to do what your kidneys cannot do anymore. There are two different forms of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. At least 90% of the patients in the United States who live with dialysis choose to go under the hemodialysis treatment. This is the procedure that was described in the experience above.

When patients live with hemodialysis, their blood needs to be circulated outside of the body with the help of a hemodialysis device. This device cleanses the blood and then returns it back to the body of the patient.

Not everyone is a right candidate to get hemodialysis. This is why every patient needs to have the doctor’s approval before having an entrance or access (a minor surgery on the leg, arm or neck to access the blood vessels). This access is called fistula and the patient will need to keep it clean and usable for as long as it needs to go under dialysis treatment.

The fistula is something dialysis patients need to learn how to live with since it is the only way doctors have to access the blood in a fast and effective way. Fistulas are joints between arteries and veins located under the skin that form a larger vessel where needles are inserted.

When patients don’t need to live with dialysis and only go under a temporary treatment, they can get a catheter on their neck and there is no need for them to go under this minor surgery. In the case of the fistula, the wound needs to heal before the dialysis treatment takes place. However, in case patients use a catheter, they can go under the dialysis treatment right away and the procedure is slightly different.