The Most Common Questions Patients Have About Dialysis

The kidneys are vital organs in the human body. Their functions are those of secreting hormones, cleaning your blood, absorbing minerals and producing urine among others. They are absolutely necessary to maintain the body’s toxin levels at normal levels, they help regulate blood pressure and even stimulate the production of red blood cells.

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As you can probably guess, the kidneys have a lot of responsibility and are organs that work under constant stress. It is expected that when organs such as these stop working like they are supposed to, the consequences are dire, as the body loses its ability to regulate the toxins that are normally cleansed by the kidneys and you begin to feel sick.

Kidney disease is the term utilized to refer to the condition by which the functions of kidneys are reduced in their efficiency or in some cases completely impaired. In cases like this, there are but a few options available for a patient to stay alive. One would be a kidney transplant, and the other would be to receive dialysis treatment. Dialysis is a treatment by which advanced machinery is used to help cover the slack left by kidneys unable to perform their functions and thus remove excess toxins from the patient’s body.

Today in Joe Cosgrove’s blog, we want to talk about some of the most common questions and concerns raised by new patients to dialysis treatment, and by the family members who want to support them during their process.

What are the different types of dialysis?

There are three primary types of dialysis. Hemodialysis and hemofiltration work similarly because they are both concerned with the cleansing of the blood directly. Blood is removed and cleaned in a machine before being pumped back into the body. The difference between both of these methods is that one uses a dialyzer solution while the other uses pressure to separate substances through a permeable membrane.

The third type of dialysis is called peritoneal dialysis and is less efficient than the former methods. In peritoneal dialysis, the blood is not directly but indirectly cleansed by pumping dialyzer into the patient’s abdomen and then removing it after the waste material has transferred to the fluid. The process is repeated several times per session.

How does dialysis work?

Dialysis is a treatment that simulates the process done by the kidneys when they are healthy by removing excess toxins from the blood and keeps the body in balance. A machine is used to extract the blood of the patient (in the case of hemodialysis) and clean it before injecting it back in. Minor surgery is necessary to create a vascular access. Vascular access is a place where the needles and tubes can be easily connected every time the patient needs to undergo the procedure. An access can be created by joining an artery and a vein together into a blood vessel called a fistula or by placing a narrow plastic tube in a large vein near the chest or neck.

In peritoneal dialysis, the blood is actually cleaned inside the body. The doctor places a catheter in the patient’s abdomen so the peritoneal cavity can be filled with fluid and thus excess toxins from the blood can be extracted from blood vessels in the abdomen that come in contact with the dialyzer that is later removed.

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Is it possible to travel?

Traveling is absolutely possible, but it requires a bit more planning that you may be used to. Dialysis can be done by the patient him or herself while traveling with no real risk. There are also many centers around the country and even worldwide that can accommodate your needs while traveling and give you all the care you need. It is imperative to plan properly and to have everything planned well in advance so you can receive the treatment you need.

Does my diet have to change?

The food you eat will depend on many factors like your current health, the stage of your particular kidney disease and the recommendations of your doctor depending on their evaluation of your specific situation. Salt, in general, is to be avoided in large quantities; the same goes for foods that contain too much phosphorus. Anything that can affect your blood pressure has to be eaten in moderation, and it is recommended to eat fewer proteins than usual, especially if you eat lots of meats and animal products.

How often do I have to undergo the treatment?

The frequency of dialysis sessions you require depends mainly on the current state of your kidneys. Some patients with a more advanced condition may require more sessions than someone whose kidneys are still performing partially. Normally, hemodialysis takes places about 3 times a week while visiting the clinic and peritoneal dialysis is usually done at home, several times during the day. As we have mentioned before, one method is more effective than the other, and that is why it requires fewer sessions.

 

Understanding the 5 stages of Chronic Kidney Disease

We do not have to stress out or even define what CKD is because we have discussed it in this blog in several articles and we already know what it is all about.

Instead today we are going to take a deep look at the 5 stages of Chronic Kidney Disease that were developed or designed by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) in order to understand better Kidney diseases and to give doctors  some sort of guideline that will help them identify the evolution of the kidney disease and know how to give the patient the best care possible for each stage.

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Let’s take a look at those 5 stages.

Stage 1 and 2:

Somebody that is in stage 1 or 2 of CKD has a small kidney damage and his or her glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is normal or a bit higher than 90 ml/min. in this stage, symptoms are not common and the kidneys are still working normally. If the person is to find out he or she is on stage 1 CKD it is because the person was being tested for other things and the results came out with certain amount of creatinine levels or they discovered blood or protein in the urine or there was an imaging test and the results said there was a kidney damage.

For people that are in this stage the treatment only focuses on a healthy diet including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, no fats or low fat diets, control the intake of sugar and sodium, have a good weight and exercise very regularly, take vitamins recommended by doctors and definitively stop smoking and having bad habits for the body.

When it comes to stage 2, the description is just the same with the disease having no symptoms and the kidney working at a very good level. The only difference here is that the kidney already has a mild damage and it is getting a bit late to discover it or to treat it and the glomerular filtration rate is around 60-89 ml/min.

Stage 3:

Here the person has already a moderate kidney damage. This stage has two parts which are called A and B. in stage 3A the glomerular filtration rate is 45-59 mL/min, and in stage 3B the glomerular filtration rate is 30-44 mL/min.  Here the disease is already noticeable and patients start to feel the symptoms. A condition called uremia appears and secondary complications such as high blood pressure, anemia and bone disease start to appear as well.

The symptoms for this stage are the feeling of being tired all the time, high retention of fluids, extremities start to swell and the patient starts feeling that his or her breath is just not enough, urine changes color to a more reddish, brownish color or it even contains blood which will make it red, lower back pain, problems with sleep and muscle cramps.

In this stage, the kidney is working at a 50% performance and the idea is to help the patient keep their kidneys working as long as possible.

In this stage, a very controlled diet and medications are essential to make the kidney live longer. When it comes to medications ( the diet is very important even since stage 1) in this stage they become essential to control glucose levels and have a very good blood pressure in order to maintain the kidney working for as long as possible. The medications doctors prescribe in this stage are ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers).

Stage 4:

Here the patient has a real problem that needs to be tackled as soon as possible and with the correct treatment. Their glomerular filtration rate is 15-30 ml/min. and treatments are now very viable options. Unfortunately, a patient with stage 4 CKD will have to get a kidney transplant in the near future. In this stage conditions like anemia, uremia, bone disease, high blood pressure, heart complications and cardiovascular diseases start to become present.

The symptoms in this stage are fatigue, hard kidney pain in the lower back, sleeping problems, nausea, vomiting, a  metallic taste in their mouth, bad breath, loss of appetite due to the flavor in their mouth, difficulty in concentrating and numbness or tingling in the toes or fingers.

In this stage, there are 3 different types of treatments which are Hemodialysis, Peritoneal dialysis and, Kidney transplant

Stage 5:

Unfortunately, at this stage, the person has no options and it is a terminal disease called end-stage renal disease (ESRD) that has a glomerular filtration rate of 15 ml/min or less. In this stage, the kidneys no longer work and don’t have the ability to do anything at all. In this stage dialysis or a kidney transplant will be needed to survive.  

It is very important to understand these five stages so patients and doctors can find out about the disease in the early stages and give patients the option of having a very good quality of life.

Be sure to also read this post about how to choose the right treatment in case of renal failure?

Two of the most important dialysis procedures

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As we have seen in previous articles, one of the most important terms in medicine, more specifically in the renal system is dialysis. This is one of the most significant procedures for those people with kidney problems, which gives to them the possibility of having a better health quality and the opportunity for living a more normal life. In other words, thanks to this medical process, people with kidney failures can have a new chance for passing better days.

In this post, we will talk about the two principal dialysis types: the peritoneal dialysis and the Hemodialysis. Before talking about these two vital medical procedures, it is important to have a better context about what a dialysis is and why it is important for those persons with kidney issues. In addition, it is significant to show some other alternatives for the treatment of kidney diseases.

Dialysis and other treatments

We can define dialysis as the medical procedure for cleaning the blood of those people with kidney failures. Put differently, it is the artificial way for eliminating waste and other components in the blood in those persons that have problems in their renal system with the impossibility for removing all these elements by themselves. Usually, the people who need dialysis are the ones with critical renal failures. For those that do not have chronic issues, there are different and less traumatic treatments.

It is important to say, as we have mentioned in this blog, that the renal system is in charge of keeping the right levels of water and minerals in the blood. Through this vital part of the body, elements like potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus and sulfate are metabolized, maintaining the required levels of these minerals for the correct performance of the human body. When kidneys and other components of this system are not working correctly for doing this, then a medical treatment is needed. If it is critical, a dialysis procedure will be required.

Having clear what a dialysis is and when it is needed, then we can talk about other renal treatments. Sometimes, when the kidney failure is not so critical, there are medicines that let the renal system to keep the adequate mineral and water levels in the blood. Another alternative is a surgery. One of the best solutions for those persons with kidney failures is a transplant, giving to the affected the possibility of having a normal working in its renal system. However, this is a more complex alternative, due to the high demand of kidneys in the world.

Hemodialysis

Under this procedure, the patient or the affected is connected into a medical dispositive called dialyzer. This mechanism cleans the blood after receiving it from the body. Here, the blood is purified, removing from it all those wasting elements which can not be eliminated by the renal system of the patient. After the blood is cleaned, it is introduced in the body, giving into it the right levels of water and minerals. In other words, through a hemodialysis, the blood is extracted for being filtered and purified in a dialyzer, then it is returned to the body.

Usually, the hemodialysis process is executed in hospitals or medical institutions, but there is the possibility of doing it at home. Some clinics give this alternative to their patients, but it requires a specialized person that understands and know how to make this procedure. It is important to say that a dialysis is usually an outpatient process and can take a few hours to be accomplished.

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Peritoneal dialysis

With a Peritoneal dialysis, the patient can clean its blood through a medical element called dialysate. Basically, with this process, it is introduced glucose through the peritoneal cavity with a tiny tube, so the peritoneal membrane works as a filter, cleaning the blood and purifying it.

This procedure is designed for being applied between 4 or 5 times in a day and for some experts, it is less efficient than an hemodialysis. The Peritoneal dialysis is used not only for cleaning the blood from toxins and other elements, but also for removing excessive fluids and to correct electrolyte problems.

However, this procedure can bring some issues to the patient, like high blood sugar levels, abdominal infections, hernias, abdomen bleeding, or catheter blocking. In other words, the Peritoneal dialysis is an excellent alternative, but for being a medical procedure where a tube is introduced into the peritoneal cavity, some problems may occur.

We have seen in this article two of the principal alternatives for treating kidney issues with dialysis, but there are other processes like the Hemofiltration, the Hemodiafiltration, the Intestinal dialysis or the Pediatric dialysis, which are excellent options depending on the patient and the condition of its renal system. In addition, it is important to say that for those situations where the renal failure is not chronic, other alternatives must be considered, like medicines or surgeries.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Pediatric Dialysis by Joe Cosgrove