Hemodialysis is the most common method used to treat advanced and permanent kidney failure. Since the 1960s, when hemodialysis first became a practical treatment for kidney failure, we’ve learned much about how to make hemodialysis treatments more effective and minimize side effects. In recent years, more compact and simpler dialysis machines have made home dialysis increasingly attractive. But even with better procedures and equipment, hemodialysis is still a complicated and inconvenient therapy that requires a coordinated effort from your whole health care team, including your nephrologist, dialysis nurse, dialysis technician, dietitian, and social worker. The most important members of your health care team are you and your family. By learning about your treatment, you can work with your health care team to give yourself the best possible results, and you can lead a full, active life.
Hemodialysis requires you to follow a strict treatment schedule, take medications regularly and, usually, make changes in your diet.
Hemodialysis is a serious responsibility, but you don’t have to shoulder it alone. You’ll work closely with your health care team, including a kidney specialist and other professionals with experience managing hemodialysis. You may be able to do hemodialysis at home.
How does hemodialysis work?
In hemodialysis, a dialysis machine and a special filter called an artificial kidney, or a dialyzer, are used to clean your blood. To get your blood into the dialyzer, the doctor needs to make an access, or entrance, into your blood vessels. This is done with minor surgery, usually to your arm.
Can dialysis cure my kidney disease?
In some cases of sudden or acute kidney failure, dialysis may only be needed for a short time until the kidneys get better. However, when chronic kidney disease progresses to kidney failure over time, your kidneys do not get better and you will need dialysis for the rest of your life unless you are able to receive a kidney transplant.
Risks of Hemodialysis
Most complications that occur during dialysis can be prevented or easily managed if you are monitored carefully during each dialysis session. Possible complications may include:
Low blood pressure (hypotension). This is the most common complication of hemodialysis. It is seen more often in women and in people older than 60.
Muscle cramps. If cramps occur, they usually happen in the last half of a dialysis session.
Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
Nausea, vomiting, headache, or confusion (dialysis disequilibrium).
Infection, especially if a central venous access catheter is used for hemodialysis.
Blood clot (thrombus) formation in the venous access catheter.
Technical complications, such as trapped air (embolus) in the dialysis tube.
Long-term complications of dialysis may include:
Inadequate filtering of waste products (hemodialysis inadequacy).
Blood clot (thrombus) formation in the dialysis graft or fistula.
Cardiovascular disease (heart disease, blood vessel disease, or stroke).