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What is Dialysis Treatment?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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When a person’s kidneys fail due to damage or disease, dialysis treatment is used as a replacement for kidney function. Dialysis is a procedure in which a person’s body is cleaned of impurities and toxins, a task which his or her kidneys would perform if they were still functional. People who undergo regular dialysis treatment are usually in end-stage renal failure and have no more than 10% to 15% kidney function remaining.

Dialysis treatment is crucial for people suffering from kidney failure. Without functional kidneys, they can no longer remove salts, waste, and water, and their bodies cannot maintain safe levels of sodium, potassium, and other minerals. Dialysis also helps to control blood pressure, which can rise or fall dangerously due to an imbalance of salts and minerals.

For some people, dialysis treatment is only a short-term measure, required as a result of acute kidney failure, or damage or disease that causes temporarily impaired kidney function. Others need regular dialysis as a result of chronic kidney failure. In these cases, the kidneys are permanently damaged, and only a successful kidney transplant will end the need for chronic dialysis.

There are two types of dialysis treatment. These are called hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Each procedure works slightly differently, but operates on the same principles of replacing kidney function by removing waste products from the blood.

The process of hemodialysis uses an artificial kidney, called a hemodialyzer, to remove the waste products and fluids that build up in the blood. To allow blood to flow through the artificial kidney, a dialysis patient must undergo a minor surgical procedure that creates an access point in an arm or leg. For the average person, dialysis treatment occurs three times a week for around four hours per session. The actual frequency and time depends on the amount of kidney function an individual person has remaining, how quickly waste products build up in the blood, and other factors.

The second type of dialysis is called peritoneal dialysis. Rather than removing the blood from the body in order to remove waste, the blood is cleaned while still inside the body. A doctor first creates an access point with a minor surgical procedure that places a catheter in the abdomen. At each peritoneal dialysis session, the catheter point is slowly filled with a solution called the dialysate, which then fills the interior of the abdominal cavity. Waste products in the blood filter through arteries and veins into the dialysate via osmosis.

While dialysis can replace the work that the kidneys do, dialysis is not itself a cure for kidney failure; rather it is a treatment that manages the condition. Many people who require chronic dialysis can live fairly normal lives, apart from the need to undergo the treatment several times per week. As the dialysis procedure is improved, it is likely that people requiring this treatment will be able to live just as long as people with functional kidneys.

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Discussion Comments
By anon257477 — On Mar 27, 2012

What method of movement of is applied and how is this applied to help people suffering from kidney dysfunctions?

By anon142049 — On Jan 12, 2011

my mom has recently been diagnosed with kidney problems and doctors are advising immediate dialysis. What is your suggestion and which type of dialysis has to be taken?

By anon136068 — On Dec 21, 2010

If a person has a brain tumor and they are now on dialysis for kidney failure, would getting a new kidney help or would the new one most likely just break down and stop working eventually like the original kidneys?

-Concerned Girlfriend

By Amphibious54 — On Jun 21, 2010

@ Sevenseas- I knew things like alcohol and drugs are a no-no while undergoing dialysis, but I never realized that dialysis requires diet changes. This made me look into the treatment of kidney disease and I was surprised to find that there is a direct link between kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.

I read about a study that said most dialysis patients also had metabolic syndrome. Those that suffer from metabolic syndrome are more likely to be afflicted with cardiovascular disease.

By my understanding, metabolic disease is a combination of ailments mostly related to diet. These ailments can be elevated blood pressure, excess fat in the midsection, elevated blood sugar, not enough good cholesterol, and a few others. A combination of any of these three is considered metabolic disease. This must be why, as you stated, diet is so important.

I better make sure that I stay active and eat healthy!

By GlassAxe — On Jun 21, 2010

@ Sevenseas- I read that scientists are developing a new type of dialysis machine, but I am not sure if it is for peritoneal or hemodialysis. The preliminary tests have been successful, but long term tests are still needed.

The machine is worn as a belt, and performs gentle dialysis 24 hours a day. Patients can wear the dialysis belt while they work or sleep, and the machine is made to mimic normal kidney function.

I would think that a dialysis machine like this could be a life saver for the nearly half a million Americans that undergo dialysis every year. I have heard stories from people who undergo dialysis and it does not sound like fun. I believe that a portable dialysis machine could help patients enjoy life a little more. A positive outlook is important when trying to overcome any disease and this machine has the potential to put a smile on the faces of dialysis patients.

By sevenseas — On Feb 24, 2010

People who are on dialysis have to be very careful with their diet and follow doctor's orders strictly.

Peritoneal dialysis is the easier one of the two dialysis and can be performed at home. Peritoneum or abdominal lining takes the place of kidneys when they fail. This dialysis is not suited for all patients, but those who can use this type of dialysis can live with less medication and an easier diet.

Hemodialysis is used when patients have kidney failure that is more advanced. This dialysis than becomes part of life, since kidneys have more or less failed permanently.

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