What's it like: To undergo dialysis

Dialysis is used when a person's kidneys stop pulling out enough toxins from the blood.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: January 27, 2013

What are the risk factors?

There are several risk factors associated with dialysis, including problems with anemia, bone disease, high blood pressure and depression. Some patients on hemodialysis might have also have problems with low blood pressure.

Patients undergoing peritoneal dialysis are at risk of developing peritonitis, an infection of the peritoneum, the lining of the stomach. This generally occurs when germs enter through your catheter. Symptoms of peritonitis include a cloudy dialysis bag while draining used fluid, unusual mild or severe stomach pain and fever or chills. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection.

Infection around your exit site, the place where your catheter exits your body, can also become infected. If you notice any swelling, bulging or pus in this area, it's important to tell your doctor.

What's the recovery time?

Some people who receive dialysis at a medical facility say they feel like they ran a race. Others simply feel fatigued. Because of the stress dialysis can place on your body, you might feel tired and want to rest for a few hours. Usually after a nap or a night's sleep, you will recover.

With home-based peritoneal dialysis, many patients report feeling rested after a good night's sleep. If you are on the right treatment regime, you should feel well and have energy. If you're feeling too tired to do daily activities and have a poor appetite, you should talk with your doctor.

Ideally, a person is on dialysis until they're able to receive a kidney transplant. Not everyone is a candidate for kidney transplant, and even people who make good candidates remain on dialysis. This is because the waiting list for a kidney transplant is long, with more than 93,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list.

What's the follow-up?

Once you begin dialysis, you will likely see your nephrologist or primary care physician on a regular basis, generally once a month.

People suffering from sudden kidney failure might only need dialysis for a short period of time. Without a kidney transplant, dialysis generally does not end for people with chronic kidney disease that has progressed to kidney failure.

Dialysis is a serious and expensive responsibility. A year of dialysis care costs between $65,000 and $70,000 per year. Medicare pays 80 percent of all costs for most patients. It's important to listen to your doctor. Medicaid and private insurance sometimes pays for part of the cost.

It's important to listen to your doctor and also ask any questions you might have. Your doctor can potentially help you make dietary and lifestyle changes that can help you keep what kidney function you have left.

Sources: Dr. Zahid Ahmad, medical director at Davita in Oklahoma City; the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse; MedlinePlus; The Mayo Clinic; Living Kidney Donors Network; National Kidney Foundation


by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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