What is kidney dialysis?

The kidneys are a pair of organs, each about the size of a fist, located on either side of your spine. They are in charge of purifying your blood by removing waste and excess fluid from your body. When the kidneys don’t work properly, dialysis is used to perform the function of the kidneys. That is what we call “kidney dialysis”.

There are different types of kidney dialysis, including:

  • Hemodialysis: Blood is filtered using a dialyzer and dialysis machine.
  • Peritoneal dialysis: Blood is filtered inside the body after the abdomen is filled with a special cleaning solution.

Nowadays there are more and more people all around the world, both men and women, experience kidney diseases which need to use dialysis.

Why is kidney dialysis performed?

If your kidneys aren’t working properly, for example because you have advanced chronic kidney disease (kidney failure), the kidneys may not be able to clean the blood properly and waste products as well as fluid can build up to dangerous levels in your body.

Left untreated, this can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms and eventually be fatal. Dialysis filters out unwanted substances and fluids from the blood before this happens.

Based on these several factors below, your doctors will help determine when you should start kidney dialysis, include:

  • Overall health
  • Kidney function
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Quality of life
  • Personal preferences

You might notice signs and symptoms of kidney failure (uremia), such as nausea, vomiting, swelling or fatigue. Your doctor uses your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) to measure your level of kidney function. Your eGFR is calculated using your blood creatinine test results, sex, age and other factors.


What are the risks of kidney dialysis?

While both peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis are treatments that can save your life, they can have certain risks.

Peritoneal dialysis is associated with an increased risk for infections in or around the catheter site in the abdominal cavity. For example, a person can experience peritonitis, an infection of the membrane lining the abdominal wall, after catheter implantation. Other risks include:

  • Abdominal muscle weakening
  • High blood sugar due to the dextrose in the dialysate
  • Weight gain

Hemodialysis also has unique risks, including:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Anemia, or not having enough red blood cells
  • Muscle cramping
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Itching
  • High blood potassium levels
  • Depression
  • Pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the membrane around the heart

If you continue to have these symptoms while on peritoneal dialysis or hemodialysis, tell the healthcare provider performing the treatment. Those who undergo long-term dialysis treatments are also at risk of developing other medical conditions, including amyloidosis. This disease can occur when amyloid proteins produced in bone marrow build up in the kidneys, liver, heart, and other organs.

It is important you understand the risks and complications before having this surgery. If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.


How do I prepare for kidney dialysis?

Preparation for hemodialysis starts several weeks to months before your first procedure.

What happens during kidney dialysis?

Kidney dialysis is a life-support treatment that uses a special machine to purify harmful wastes, salt, and excess fluid from your blood. This restores the blood to a normal and healthy balance. Dialysis replaces many of the kidney’s important functions.


Hemodialysis is the most common type of dialysis. It uses an artificial kidney, known as a hemodialyzer, to remove waste and chemicals from your blood.

To allow for easy access to your bloodstream, a surgeon will create a vascular access. This vascular access will allow a larger amount of blood to flow through your body during hemodialysis treatment. This means more blood can be filtered and purified.

Hemodialysis treatments usually last three to five hours and this treatment is typically needed three times per week. However, hemodialysis treatment can also be done in shorter, more frequent sessions.

Most hemodialysis treatments are done at a hospital, doctor’s office, or dialysis center. The length of treatment depends on your body size and the amount of waste in your body.

Peritoneal dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis involves surgery to implant a catheter into your belly area. During treatment, a special fluid called dialysate flows into your abdomen. Once the dialysate draws waste out of the bloodstream, it’s drained from your abdomen.

There are numerous different types of peritoneal dialysis, but the main ones are continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis and continuous cycler-assisted peritoneal dialysis.

  • In continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis, your abdomen is filled and drained multiple times each day.
  • Continuous cycler-assisted peritoneal dialysis, however, uses a machine to cycle the fluid in and out of your abdomen. It’s usually done at night while you sleep.

Peritoneal dialysis can be done at home. You’ll receive training on how to perform the steps of the treatment.

If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.


What happens after kidney dialysis?

If you stop dialysis, your kidneys will continue to fail. You cannot live without at least one functioning kidney unless you get a kidney transplant. Without a kidney transplant, you will need dialysis for the rest of your life.

You may want to talk to your dietitian to see if your diet can be adjusted to increase your energy levels.

Regular exercise may also help. If you are fatigued and on dialysis, starting a program of regular exercise can be difficult. But if you persevere, you will probably find that exercising becomes easier with time.

Low-to-moderate aerobic exercise such as cycling, running, walking or swimming is best. Your doctor will be able to advise you about the type of exercise most suitable for you.

Weight gain can be a complication of peritoneal dialysis. If you’re concerned that you are gaining too much weight, you should talk to your dialysis team who can recommend a diet and exercise plan.

Avoid following fad diets that claim to be able to help you lose a lot of weight quickly. This type of extreme dieting could upset your body’s chemistry and make you feel very ill.

Are there any complications that may happen?

Both hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis cause side effects. Most commonly, you will feel fatigue. Fatigue is thought to be caused by a combination of the:

  • Loss of normal kidney function
  • Effects dialysis can have on the body
  • Dietary restrictions associated with dialysis
  • Overall stress and anxiety that many people with kidney failure experience

Side effects of hemodialysis include:

  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Sepsis(blood poisoning)
  • Fever of 38 degree Celcius or above.
  • Muscle cramps
  • Itchy skin
  • Difficulties falling asleep (insomnia) or staying asleep
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Loss of libido (sex drive) and erectile dysfunction
  • Dry mouth
  • Anxiety

Side effects of peritoneal dialysis include:

  • Bacterial infection of the peritoneum (peritonitis)
  • Hernia
  • Weight gain

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: April 14, 2017 | Last Modified: April 14, 2017