What Is Kidney Dialysis?

People who have severe kidney disease must learn more about dialysis because it may be the only treatment that can add years to their life. Learn the types and risks.

The kidneys are a pair of organs that help prevent the accumulation of salt, water, and wastes in the body. They also help control your blood pressure and regulate various chemicals, such as salt (sodium) and potassium in the blood. When your kidneys are damaged because of kidney problems, they may fail to function properly and you may need kidney dialysis to support your health. Read on to learn more about what is dialysis.

What Is Kidney Dialysis?

Dialysis (also otherwise known as renal replacement therapy) replaces kidney function and helps maintain balance in the body. It is a process that is used to filter the blood of excess wastes, fluids, and chemicals when the natural body mechanisms fail to function properly. Normally, the kidneys are the main organs of filtration, which provide a way of eliminating these substances into the urine. However, when they fail due to kidney disease, a patient is at risk for blood “poisoning” and fluid accumulation. If medications fail to relieve this life-threatening situation, a kidney dialysis may be needed.

Functions of Kidney Dialysis

A kidney dialysis does not cure kidney disease, but it helps maintain your body balance by:

  • helping to remove excess water, salt and wastes to prevent their build up in the body
  • maintaining safe levels of chemicals such as sodium, potassium, and bicarbonatein the blood
  • helping to control your blood pressure

When Is Kidney Dialysis Needed?

Now that we have answered the question of what is dialysis, you might want to ask when you need a dialysis. You will need a kidney dialysis when your kidneys are not able to function adequately and signs and symptoms of water and toxic product accumulation appear. Kidney dysfunction may be due to acute kidney failure, which may be a temporary disorder or due to advanced chronic kidney disease, which is associated with permanent loss of kidney function. Symptoms of kidney failure include itchy skin, vomiting, extreme tiredness, and swelling of the hands, feet, and ankles. Without treatment, kidney failure can lead to death.

Many people need to have regular dialysis treatments, which may last as long as they live, since their kidneys have stopped working. A few people, however, may be able get a kidney transplant, which can take the place of regular dialysis.

Types of Kidney Dialysis

There are 2 types of kidney dialysis:

Hemodialysis

In a hemodialysis, a needle that is attached to a tube is inserted into your blood vessel. Your blood passes through this tube to the dialysis machine, which filters off the excess fluids and waste products. Filtered blood passes back to your body. The process may last up to four hours. Most patients need to undergo this process three times a week.

Peritoneal Dialysis

This is a less known type of kidney dialysis, and it involves the use of the peritoneal lining in your abdomen as a filter. The peritoneum is a thin membrane that contains tiny blood vessels, which make it an effective filtering device. A catheter (a flexible tube) is inserted into the abdomen and a special dialysis fluid is pushed into the peritoneal space. As your blood flows through the peritoneum, excess fluid and waste products are removed from the blood and filtered into this dialysis fluid. The fluids are then drained from the peritoneal cavity.

This process lasts for about 30 to 40 minutes and it is may be repeated four times during the day. It may also be done overnight.

How to Prepare for Kidney Dialysis

A small needle and tube (catheter) will be inserted to your blood vessel before your first dialysis. This quick procedure will allow access to the blood stream during the dialysis. To prepare, wear comfortable clothes to allow easy access to the catheter. Follow the doctor's instructions, especially on fasting before your treatment.

Results of Kidney Dialysis

If left untreated, kidney damage may lead to death. Dialysis offers a life-saving option for patients who may experience significant pain, disability, and death. The success of dialysis depends on some factors such as the age and general health of the patient.

Dialysis may be a demanding procedure that needs personal discipline. However, many people are able to lead a full life and may continue working. On the average, young people may live for about 20 years on dialysis treatments while elderly patients may have an average of four years life expectancy. Some patients have been on dialysis treatment for over three decades, and this may still improve.

Are There Any Risks of Kidney Dialysis?

What is dialysis risk? Although a dialysis is necessary for maintaining health in a patient with kidney failure, it also carries some risks, which may be avoided by proper procedure. These risks include:

  • bleeding at the point of access
  • irregular heartbeats
  • decreased blood pressure
  • nausea
  • infection
  • air bubbles may enter the blood stream

Long-term risks of dialysis include dialysis dementia, a condition caused by the aluminum compounds present in dialysis fluids. Symptoms include convulsions, speech problems, and other physical complications.

Consult your doctor if you experience symptoms during your dialysis treatments to discuss ways of lowering your risks.

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