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.

Everything You Need to Know About Pediatric Dialysis

As Joe Cosgrove has already pointed out in previous articles, having kidney disease means that your kidneys are not properly working and are not able to filter blood anymore like they should. When this condition gets worst it is known as end-stage renal disease or ESRD and needs to be treated with dialysis.

Pediatric Emergency Department

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Most people think that ESRD only affects adults since their bodies are more deteriorated. However, ESRD also affects children. At least 1,462 children in the United States need to start dialysis treatment every year. Most of these children have congenital disorders (33%), have damaged kidneys due to glomerular disease (24,6%), or need to go on dialysis because they have glomerulonephritis (12,9%).

When we talk about adults, the most common causes of kidney failure are related to high blood pressure or diabetes. Nevertheless, when we talk about children, kidney disease is rarely related to those two conditions and it is often caused as a side effect of other treatments or because they have a hereditary condition that may affect their urinary tract.

Treating Children with ESRD in the United States

Every year over 10,000 children is treated for ESRD in the United States. Most of these children use hemodialysis as it is less invasive and easier to adapt to their bodies. This is how, every year 56 percent of these children are treated with hemodialysis and the rest just go under peritoneal dialysis, have kidney transplants or take alternative treatments.

At least 1,300 children are listed for kidney transplant every year. Over the past 20 years, this number seems to have grown dramatically since kidney diseases have become more popular among the U.S. population.

This is how treatments and medical procedures for children have also evolved. Technology has done major improvements and filtering membranes and catheters are now meant to be used in children, so their size is smaller, sometimes they are more resistant and flexible.

At first, there were many side effects related to hemodialysis in children. However, this seems to have been controlled over the past two decades. Now the morbidity rates during dialysis have considerably decreased and it is less common to experience seizures as a side effect during the treatment. The already mentioned medical advances have made it easier for children to deal with such an invasive procedure, so hypotensive episodes are quite uncommon nowadays.

A sensitive treatment

Saddest Pediatric Patient

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Two decades ago it was common for a dialysis patient to say that it was feeling pain or discomfort during the treatment. Keeping in mind that children’s bodies are more sensitive and fragile, dialysis procedures are less painful and discomforting today. The catheters used during the entire dialysis process are internal, making it impossible for children to remove it without helps. Besides, anesthetic creams are used to puncture the patient.

More sensitive and less invasive technologies have also been developed in order to reduce dramatic effects such as morbidity. These technologies can also reduce healthcare costs, making it simpler for the health care providers too.

Synthetic materials used in children are biocompatible and have a smaller size. This way, tubing and other processes related to pediatric dialysis are easier on the infant’s body. Diameter and length of tubes have been reduced so they can fit the patient’s veins. This way, the volume of filtered blood is going to be adequate both for having a successful a treatment and taking care of the child’s needs.

Machines used in pediatric dialysis are also special ones, so blood pumping is normal compared to the one that happens during the treatment adults get. Most dialysis machines used with children are designed to meet their needs and be used with pediatric patients.

The speed used when the blood is pumped in children is slower than in adults and needs to be kept that way since the capacity of patients to output blood is different and veins could be cloaked. For this reason, children need to be monitored during the entire dialysis session. Machines are always designed in a way that it is easier for healthcare providers to be in control of the dialysis process during the entire time.

Related: Is dialysis always recommendable?


Since children with ESRD will need to be exposed to dialysis for a long period, hemodialysis needs to be seen as a whole and not as a mere step of kidney disease therapy. Dialysis in children should be seen as a temporary thing. This happens because if the patient is feeling better then it will stop the treatment and if things complicate and the kidneys completely fail, then the pediatric patient will need to get a kidney transplant.

When patients have the chance to heal, then hemodialysis enables the chances for patients to improve their condition, while they can keep having a normal life. This treatment can often affect children’s physiologically when it is done in the long term, so it is recommended to give some kind of support to children while they are going through dialysis treatment.

4 Famous People Who Needed Dialysis Treatment

Kidney disease may affect anyone. In the United States, more than 65,000 individuals suffer from End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), and about 2 million people worldwide are affected by the same medical condition. There are multiple reasons why so many people have this disease. However, there are only two available treatments for it: going under dialysis or having a kidney transplant.

ESRD has affected thousands of Americans, and celebrities are not an exception to this. There are many Hollywood stars, famous writers and journalists and even athletes who have needed to go under dialysis treatment due to ESRD. In this article, Joe Cosgrove will share the story of some celebrities who have needed to go under dialysis treatment or had a kidney transplant.

Tracy Morgan

Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan

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In December 2010, the 30 Rock celebrity, Tracy Morgan, had to have a kidney transplant. The actor was diagnosed with type two diabetes almost 20 years earlier and didn’t pay much attention to it. This led to a reckless lifestyle that would later destroy his kidneys, due to the high levels of glucose in the blood that were never treated.

Apparently, Tracy Morgan never had to deal with dialysis, because his ex-girlfriend (Tanisha) offered to be his live donor and go under major surgery to have one of her kidneys removed and done it to him. Both of them successfully recovered and are living. Morgan now is very responsible with his diabetes and keeps glucose levels under control to prevent further kidney damage.

Related: What You Diet On Dialysis Should Look Like

Sarah Hyland


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At the age of 21, the Modern Family actress needed to go under kidney transplant surgery. As a child she was diagnosed with Kidney Dysplasia, a condition characterized by the development of abnormal tissue in the kidneys. For over 12 years she had anything but a carefree lifestyle until the pain was unbearable.

She told the media that she needed to rest for at least 12 hours every day in order to be able to work. She was in pain most of the time she was on the set and needed to do many of her scenes from a chair, where she could rest for a couple minutes during the shots.

Hyland was about to go under dialysis as she couldn’t find a kidney donor. This situation is common in America since every year there are at least 100,000 people who need a kidney transplant and only 20,000 available donors. Luckily, Hyland’s father offered to be the donor and she had her transplant in 2012. Since then she has raised her voice and offers hope and advice for those struggling with ESRD.

Related: 8 Celebrities You Probably Did Not Know Received Kidney Transplants Which Are Still Functioning

George Lopez

In 2005, the star of the George Lopez Show needed to have a kidney transplant. He was diagnosed with ESRD a year before having the surgery and had to work during that entire year in the production of his show. The actor was often in agony due to a congenital abnormality that had caused his ureters to narrow, leading to the poisoning of his kidneys.

One day, he told his wife, Anna, he was dying. Anna immediately told him that she would give one of her kidneys to him. The next day they were ready to go under surgery and were very supportive one to another. Lopez recalls how well he felt just a few days after the surgery, he stated that when you get a kidney transplant, you know that you are going to feel better, but you don’t know how better you are actually going to feel.

He decided to talk about his condition in his show. This way he aimed to create awareness towards ESRD, dialysis and Kidney Transplant.

Natalie Cole

Nat King Cole’s daughter was diagnosed in 2007 with Hepatitis C thanks to the many years she spent consuming destructive drugs. The treatment she needed to go under to save her liver, allowed her to recover 80 percent of its capacity, however, it destroyed her kidneys. By the time she was diagnosed with ESRD her kidneys were only operating at eight per cent.

Natalie was taken to a hospital right after her ESRD diagnosed and had to spend several days plugged to a dialysis machine. Finding and organ donor wasn’t an easy task for her (as it isn’t a piece of cake for most people in America), and she had to spend eight months under dialysis treatment before someone decided to give one of its kidneys to her.

The way Natalie’s kidney donor was found is called a miracle by some people. Mrs. Cole had been treated once by a nurse named Esther, who knew Natalie needed to find a kidney donor. Esther had a niece named Jessica who died of a stroke during pregnancy. When Jessica’s family decided to donate all her organs, Esther said she knew someone who had been really nice to her who needed a kidney transplant. Finally, Natalie was able to find a kidney match and get her transplant.