Coming Back From Kidney Disease: Are You Ready to Work Again?

As per discussed in older posts by Joe Cosgrove, kidney disease, and renal failure, although imply a really hard time for patients, still leave room for them to get the most out of life. One of the biggest issues that concern the vast majority of renal failure and dialysis patients is whether or not they are able to work and perform their old labor duties.

As a matter of fact, many people with chronic kidney disease or renal failure manage to work either full time or part time. Moreover, some of them even go to school or are able to take care of their families and homes. Others prefer to perform volunteer work while still enjoying their hobbies: they go out with peers or even have regular workout and exercise routines. But since these types of conditions come with a heavy burden for those who suffer from them, it is no less than understandable to see patients wondering about whether or not they are ready to work.

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Here are some of the questions that patients ask the most about the possibility continuing to work while on treatment or suffering from any type of kidney disease:

I had a job prior to suffering kidney disease. Can I go back to work?

Most patients, especially those who start dialysis or undergo a transplant want to go back to work almost immediately. Some assert that it helps them feel like they are getting their lives back to what they consider normal, whereas others may take some time to recover from the fallout of the treatment or the post-operatory in case they underwent a kidney transplant surgery.

I am currently employed, can I just continue working while on treatment?

Some dialysis patients manage to work full time soon after they start the treatment. Others, due to the nagging consequences of the treatment, decide to rather take either a part-time or remote work. What seems to be clear, is that dialysis patients prefer to take jobs that are not as physically demanding as their older ones. In fact, working from home with a flexible schedule seems to be the best option, as patients are required to go to hemodialysis from time to time.

Whichever the case, patients should be able to talk to their employers about possible changes and conditions that can help them continue working while on treatment. And this is particularly important since employers likely ignore what kidney disease is about and its implications, therefore, addressing concerns about the job is perhaps the wisest thing to do.

As a matter of fact, doctors are often willing to talk to the patient’s employer to explain and address their condition. Employers will obviously have concerns about the possible limitations, which is why having the doctor address these concerns really come in handy.

Am I protected against labor discrimination?

There are several acts that protect people with some kind of disability from labor and job discrimination. Being fired or being denied a promotion due to some kind of condition or illness is entirely protected by the Civil Rights Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the American with Disabilities Act.

Employers often ask for medical certification stating that the patient indeed suffers from a specific condition, and cannot under any circumstances fire or force employees to resign simply because they require surgery or treatment.

How do I know if I am ready to work?

Of course, health should always be the patient’s top priority. Prior to recklessly going back to work—ignoring medical recommendations—, patients must decide whether they feel physically and mentally strong to take on their duties again. This process, of course, should always be accompanied by medical rehabilitation.

People with kidney disease or renal failure often go through the following rehabilitation process: first, they need to get themselves back to a much healthier physical overall state; second, they have got to convince themselves that, although they suffer from these diseases, there is still room for positivity; third, they need to start feeling confident and ok around peeps, coworkers and relatives; and fourth, they need to learn how to self-manage themselves to regain their productivity.

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As previously recommended, accompanying rehabilitation with physical activity is tremendously beneficial and will help patients achieve the aforementioned goals much easier. Volunteering and helping other go through the same process also provides a sense of productivity and will definitely help them gain back the skills that could unquestionably help them get a job in the future. The whole idea is to not let the disease impair the patient’s mental state, for, although these conditions imply difficult times, the spirit is everything. There is always another opportunity and there is always a chance to get the most out of life even while on dialysis or treatment: imagination and the will to live is key.

Physical activity for dialysis patients

Joe Cosgrove has previously covered renal compensation and dialysis thoroughly from different angles; however, one common thing dialysis patients wonder is whether they can perform physical activities during and after the treatment. The truth is, the vast majority of dialysis patients firmly believe they cannot execute any physical activity or exercise; nonetheless, research has shown that actually, they can. Many out of those patients have previously described their first physical activities as something that helped them feel normal again shortly after starting their dialysis treatment. As asserted by various physicians, the act of motion and exercise, regardless of length and intensity, helps those individuals with chronic kidney disease feel much better and stronger, and subsequently more in control of their bodies and their health.


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Many out of those patients have previously described their first physical activities as something that helped them feel normal again shortly after starting their dialysis treatment. As asserted by various physicians, the act of motion and exercise, regardless of length and intensity, helps those individuals with chronic kidney disease feel much better and stronger, and subsequently more in control of their bodies and their health.

The medical community, especially those who specialize in working with renal rehabilitation have found that exercising on a regular basis, carefully, of course, not only improves an individual’s potential for future and more intense physical activity but also does wonders regarding the overall quality of life for those undergoing the dreary process. It is well known that exercise may also come in handy for gaining back the ability to carry out activities that were part of people’s routines prior to starting the treatment. Of course, this also has a huge impact on an emotional level: whether it is returning to the office or taking over domestic chores, patients basically agree upon the fact that exercise has given them back a part of themselves that was somewhat lost.

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Thus, with that being said, for all those individuals who are currently undergoing dialysis, any kind of controlled and supervised physical activity is highly recommended; however, before recklessly jumping into action, it is advisable to consider the following aspects:

Consult your physician

When it comes to delicate medical conditions, addressing the primary physician is key. Doctors are the first source of information about what kind of physical activity can be done depending on the patient’s current stage of the treatment. In fact, physicians often feel happy for those patients who show eagerness to work out and improve their overall health. Measures often include several recommendations such as consulting a physical therapist as well in order to avoid falling victim of any possible injury. Meal plans and controlled diets are always advisable.

Alongside their primary physician and their physical therapist, patients undergoing dialysis can make their current stage more fun and enjoyable—which ends up providing a tremendous positive effect on the patient’s body and mind.

Choose the physical activity and exercise you like the most

Most patients are used to taking long walks. Walking, in fact, is perhaps one of the least demanding and strenuous exercises people can do; yet it is also one of the healthiest ways of keeping a good physical condition. Taking a walk provides several benefits and helps various corporal functions at the same time: it improves the patient’s digestion, increases their energy levels, reduces their bad cholesterol levels, controls their blood pressure, lowers the risk of having a cardiovascular condition, helps them sleep much better and, most importantly, helps fade away those high-stress levels.


It is undeniable that undergoing dialysis takes a toll on every patient: the vast majority of those individuals who are currently on dialysis oftentimes agree upon the fact that they always feel exhausted and too tired to exercise, and, subsequently, they firmly believe that adding extra activity to their already demanding routines will leave them even more tired. The truth is, even a little-controlled amount of physical activity, let us say 20 to 25 minutes a day, has proven to help patients feel less exhausted. Doing otherwise—not exercising—actually makes people fall victim of those unwanted low energy levels: the longer they postpone any kind of physical activity, the weaker they will feel.

One of the most renowned side effects of suffering from kidney failure is muscle loss. This simply means that those individuals who are currently undergoing dialysis are more likely to lose muscle mass. Exercise, however, helps keep the muscle from shrinking. In fact, there is the chance to bring it back!

Always stretch

As mentioned above, the common denominator of those undergoing dialysis is a constant weakness. People are simply too tired to do basically anything; however, stretching prior to any kind of physical activity has proven to do wonders; besides, it is practically something all dialysis patients can do: it is the perfect way to get blood to those stiff body parts. Stretch both lower and upper body prior and after exercising, as it reduces the chances of suffering from cramps and other unwanted and unsolicited pains. Of course, the key here is to mind the pace, meaning: start slowly. There is no need to become the ultimate athlete to have a good and effective workout. Exercise at a controlled pace and improve over time. It will definitely pay off!

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Know some of the most common side effects of dialysis

People suffering from renal failure who must experience dialysis sessions know that it is not a pleasant experience. Although this procedure lengthens their life, side effects may occur they should know them in advance for minimizing them, in some cases, in order to completely avoid them.

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Related: Everything you need to know about Dialysis Disequilibrium Syndrome

Sessions are tough. Each process lasts four hours, and it’s three times a week. Sometimes it is not easy to hold. Renal patients should be connected to the machine to successfully clear their blood. The hemodialysis machine collects the toxic substances from the blood stream through an efficient filter that cleans it and injects it back again.

During that process, some alterations may be present in the patient’s body: the blood pressure suddenly changes, some cramps may occur, an overload of fluids sometimes, numbness in legs and arms, etc. Some of the most common side effects are nausea (sometimes with vomit), itching, headaches, and involuntary muscle movements, like nervous tics. This, without considering problems that may take place with fistulas, needles or bleeding.

To this extent, it is perfectly normal that patients get exhausted after each session. It is normal to feel weak and shaky. Obviously, everything may differ in intensity every time, or, in some cases, they may even not occur. Remember that every organism is different and shows different reactions.

Because of the normal side effects, doctors recommend rest after dialysis sessions. Physical exercises or tasks that require concentration, such as driving, can bring adverse outcomes. After an hour (though it’s variable for each patient), everyday tasks can be performed normally, even those requiring efforts, such as sports or some physical work. The important thing is to keep a positive attitude and remembering that the sensations produced as side effects are transitory.

Actually, doctors often recommend performing physical activities during the days in which the patient should not attend dialysis sessions. It is well-known that physical exercise enhances the beneficial effects of dialysis and reduces the side effects. However, it is important that the patient doesn’t perform extremely intense activities (extreme sports, for example) and, on the other hand, in all circumstances patients must protect the limb vascular access.

It is normal to leave a dialysis session with a little less weight because the liquid excess is removed from the body. A possible side effect is to finish the session with less weight (more than the expected amount) and then suffer from hypotension, extreme fatigue, and severe muscle cramps. Therefore, it is important to consume the amount of liquids that doctors recommend (not more, not less.) “Between dialysis sessions, patients should not drink more than two liters of liquid because it would increase their overweight significantly and would bring several difficult problems that could be avoided by following this simple advice,” says Joe Cosgrove, Chairman, President and CEO of Pentec Health.


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The reactions of patients are mainly due to the awareness of their bodies to ethylene oxide and to the cellulosic membranes which are not biocompatible (cuprophane or its derivatives, for instance). Nevertheless, there may be more sensitive reactions during the dialysis session that the already described above, and they happen due to other substances in the dialysis process, such as an anaphylactic allergy because of polysulfone biocompatible membranes.

This kind of reactions usually begin within a few minutes into the hemodialysis; immediately after contacting the blood dialysis circuit with the patient’s body. In some cases, the reaction may be delayed more than half an hour from the beginning of each treatment. More severe reactions can cause shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, hypotension, cardiac arrest and even death.

Traditionally adverse reactions happen in four out of approximately 100,000 dialyses. It is known that one in twenty to one in fifty patients could be susceptible to present an anaphylactic reaction with a new dialyzer simultaneously, while the risk of reaction in a single dialysis is approximately one in 1000 to one in 5,000. These reactions are not related to a particular type of membrane, a particular dialyzer, a particular dialysis technique or a priming procedure, but in those few patients suffering from repeated reactions, the problems can be avoided by increasing the volume of salt in the wash initial dialyzer or by simply changing the type of membrane.

Finally, other side effects that can occur (actually more unpredictable), are related to the mental health of patients. Several patients who undergo hemodialysis have symptoms of depression. In many cases, there suffer from panic attacks and the anxiety and stress levels may increase a lot. The first thing to consider is that these reactions are normal due to chemical changes in the bodies of patients and stress levels produced by long sessions. It is best to visit a psychiatrist who is aware of the dialysis treatment, to avoid a dangerous deterioration in the mental health of the patient.