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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

Why undergo dialysis?

One of your kidneys' main functions is to get rid of toxins, primarily from food, and also excess fluid in your body.

Chronic kidney disease gets worse over time, and eventually leads to end-stage renal disease, also known as kidney failure. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the most common causes of chronic kidney disease.

Your doctor might recommend you begin dialysis treatments once you reach the point where you have only 10 to 15 percent of kidney function left.

With kidney failure, the toxins and excess fluid that your kidneys should be releasing begin to build up in your body. People suffering from kidney failure begin dialysis to help their bodies remove these wastes, salts and fluid.

Diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney inflammation and polycystic kidney disease can all cause kidney failure. Serious health problems, such as a severe injury or heart attack, can also cause acute kidney failure.

What happens during dialysis?

Hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis are the two main types of dialysis.

Hemodialysis is typically performed at dialysis centers or hospitals, but a growing number of clinics are offering home hemodialysis. Smaller devices are making home hemodialysis more practical.

With hemodialysis, patients generally have an access point, usually in their arm, added through minor surgery. While at a dialysis center, you're hooked up to a dialysis machine for about four hours. During this time, your blood is being drawn from your body, cleaned through a filter in the machine and returned to your body.

With home-based peritoneal dialysis, you will have a soft tube known as a catheter placed in your stomach through a minor surgery. There are two main types of peritoneal dialysis — continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis and continuous cycling peritoneal dialysis.

You generally undergo continuous cycling peritoneal dialysis at night. Before going to bed, you'll attach tubing that's attached to your dialysis machine to your catheter. A dialysis solution is pumped through your catheter, filling your stomach. The fluid will stay in your stomach for a few hours, depending on your size and the amount of waste that needs to be removed. Your stomach will act as a natural filter, allowing waste and fluid from your blood to pass through it into the solution.

Continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis doesn't require a machine. Rather, you'll drain dialysis solution into your abdomen through a catheter. After four to six hours, you will drain the waste-filled solution into a bag. Your doctor will recommend the number of times you do this per day.

Does it hurt?

With hemodialysis, you'll likely feel pain when two needles are inserted into your arm through your access point. The process itself should not hurt, but you might feel nauseated.

With peritoneal dialysis, you generally should not feel pain. If you are experiencing pain, you should talk with your doctor because you could be suffering from an infection in your stomach.

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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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